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Norman Cousins 

Interviewed by Andrew D. Basiago 


Completed under the auspices 

of the 

Oral History Program 

University of California 

Los Angeles 

Copyright © 1992 
The Regents of the University of California 


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This manuscript is hereby made available for research 
purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, 
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Frontispiece: Photograph courtesy of Norman Cousins. 



Biographical Summary viii 

Interview History xiii 

TAPE NUMBER: I, Side One (October 27, 1986) 1 

Cub reporter on the New York Evening Post- -Book 
review editor for Current History- -Developing 
political perspective--Interest in world 
government--Clarence K. Streit's Union Now. 

TAPE NUMBER: I, Side Two (October 27, 1986) 17 

Founding of Americans United for World 
Organization--Impact of World War II on American 
thought-- Joining William Allen White's Committee 
to Defend America By Aiding the Allies. 

TAPE NUMBER: II, Side One (November 3, 1986) 24 

Charles A. Beard's isolationism-- John Gunther ' s 
globalism--European expatriates in Southern 
Calif ornia--Robert Maynard Hutchins, Mortimer J. 
Adler, and Great Books of the Western World. 

TAPE NUMBER: II, Side Two (November 3, 1986) 38 

Mistakes of Neville Chamberlain--Grenville Clark-- 
Henry L. Stimson--Nicholas Murray Butler-- James 
T. Shotwell--Reinhold Niebuhr--Human nature and 
international organization. 

TAPE NUMBER: III, Side One (January 30, 1987) 56 

Wendell L. Willkie and One World--Post-World War 
II reassertion of American values--Historical 
examples of ancient Greece and the American 
founding fathers--The Good Inheritance and A 
Treasury of Democracy- -Cousins ' s connection to 
the New Deal--Merle E. Tracy--Early interest in 
health and medicine. 

TAPE NUMBER: III, Side Two (January 30, 1987) 76 

The atomic bomb as a turning point in history-- 
Historical analogy of Greek city-states. 


TAPE NUMBER: IV, Side One (February 17, 1987) 84 

Influence of John Dewey--Dif f iculty of escaping 
political labeling in the 1930s--Inf luence of 
James T. Shotwell on Cousins--Promoting American 

TAPE NUMBER: IV, Side Two (February 17, 1987) 99 

Editors of the Saturday Review of Literature- - 
Saturday Review traditions- -The shifting emphasis 
of Saturday Review from literature toward 

TAPE NUMBER: V, Side One (February 24, 1987) 108 

More on the editors of Saturday Review- - 
Christopher Morley--Bennett A. Cerf--Editors of 
USA--Business side of magazine publishing--The 
Century Club. 

TAPE NUMBER: V, Side Two (February 24, 1987) 126 

More on the Century Club- -Interest in 
international control of nuclear weapons-- 
Influence of Quakers on disarmament discussions-- 
E. L. De Golyer. 

TAPE NUMBER: VI, Side One (October 20, 1987) 138 

United States Office of War Information (OWI)-- 
Editing USA--Def ining American values for the 
world--Elmer H. Davis--Editorial freedom of USA 
editors--Famous writers for USA--OWI handling of 
military information. 

TAPE NUMBER: VI, Side Two (October 20, 1987) 157 

Postwar promotion of world government--Convincing 
other nations that the United States would not 
again retreat into isolationism--Dissent within 
OWI--Inf luence of Edgar G. Sisson on USA-- 
Franklin D. Roosevelt's impact on projecting a 
positive image of the United States. 

TAPE NUMBER: VII, Side One (November 2, 1987) 173 

More on development and deployment of the atomic 
bomb--OWI warnings to Japan--Cousins ' s view that 

the bomb was a mistake--Harry S Truman's limited 
moral imagination--Cousins ' s book The Pathology 
of Power . 

TAPE NUMBER: VII, Side Two (November 2, 1987) 194 

More on reasons why Truman dropped the bomb-- 
Pernicious influence of "the military-industrial 
complex" --Cousins ' s involvement in peace 
negotiations with North Vietnam- -Dangerous 
strength of secret government agencies- - 
Opposition of scientists to dropping the bomb--J. 
Robert Oppenheimer ' s errors of judgment--Other 
advocates of nuclear disarmament. 

TAPE NUMBER: VIII, Side One (November 23, 1987) 210 

Town Hall debate on mass bombing of enemy cities- - 
Distinction between pre- and postatomic bombing 
of civilians--Dropping the bomb to make the USSR 
manageable--Dif ferences between world socialism 
and world federalism--Norman Thomas--Economic 
determinism and war--Serving with occupation 
armies in Germany and Japan as a consultant on 
human rights. 

TAPE NUMBER: VIII, Side Two (November 23, 1987) 229 

Contrasting West Germany and East Germany- - 
Attitudes of postwar Germans--Cousins ' s involve- 
ment on the board of directors of the American 
Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)--The limits on 
freedom of speech--Cousins ' s resignation from the 
ACLU--Educational reform in postwar Japan-- 
Cousins ' s respect for General Douglas MacArthur-- 
Paradox of "limited war" --Economic benefits of 
Japanese demilitarization-- Japanese economic 
development . 

TAPE NUMBER: IX, Side One (December 21, 1987) 249 

Visiting India and meeting Jawaharlal Nehru-- 
International misconceptions about the United 
States--World interest in the race problem in 
America--Provincialism of Americans and American 
intellectuals--Mankind' s common philosophical 
concerns--Third World quest for neutrality and 
autonomy--Whether hope for the future comes from 
world government or respect for the individual-- 
Fatalism of Indian philosophy. 


TAPE NUMBER: IX, Side Two (December 21, 1987) 268 

Problems of fashioning social programs to the 
culture and conditions of a country--Nehru ' s 
disregard for his personal security--Comparing 
Nehru and Gandhi--India ' s struggle to stay out of 
the Cold War. 

TAPE NUMBER: X, Side One (January 19, 1988) 283 

More on Cousins ' s admiration for Nehru-- 
Accessibility of President John F, Kennedy- - 
Anecdote about writing a speech for Kennedy- - 
United States ' s pressure on India to ally itself 
with the West--Nehru ' s attitude toward Marxism. 

TAPE NUMBER: X, Side Two (January 19, 1988) 301 

More on Nehru's nonalignment--The issue of 
postwar German reunif ication--Nehru ' s high regard 
for Dwight D. Eisenhower- -Cousins ' s 
correspondence with Indira Gandhi--Assessing 
Indira Gandhi as a leader. 




Born: June 24, 1915, Union Hill, New Jersey. 

Education: Columbia University, Teachers College. 

Spouse: Ellen Kopf, married 1939, four children. 

New York Post, educational writer, 1934-35. 

Current History, literary editor, managing editor, 1935- 

Saturday Review of Literature, editor, 1940-71, 1973-77, 
chairman of the board of directors, 1978. 

UCLA School of Medicine, adjunct professor, 1977-present 


USA, United States Office of War Information, editor, 
member of editorial board, 1943-45. 

Smith-Mundt U.S. government lecturer, India, Pakistan, 
Ceylon, 1951. 

Japanese-American Exchange, lecturer, Japan, 1953. 

Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE), founding 
member, 1957-67. 

National Educational Television, chairman of the board 
of directors, 1969-70. 

National Programming Council for Public Television, 
chairman, 1970-71. 


Albert Einstein Peace Prize Foundation, selection board 

Albert Schweitzer Friendship House, board member. 
American Institute of Stress. 


Cancer Advisory Council, California. 

Century Association. 

Charles F. Kettering Foundation, trustee. 

Citizens Committee for a Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, 

Coffee House Club. 

Commission to Study Organization for Peace. 

Committee for Culture and Intellectual Exchange, 
International Cooperation Year, chairman, 1965. 

Connecticut Fact-Finding Commission on Education, 
chairman, 1948-52. 

Council on Foreign Relations. 

Dag Hammarskjold College, trustee. 

Educational Broadcasting Corporation. 

Encyclopaedia Britannica, board of editors. 

Hiroshima Peace Center Associates, chairman. 

Mayor's Task Force on Air Pollution, New York City, 
chairman, 1966-68. 

Wenninger Foundation. 

National Academy of Sciences International Relations 

National Press Club. 

Overseas Press Club, president. 

Pilgrims of America. 

Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists and Novelists 
(PEN), president. 

Public Television Network, chairman. 

Ruth Mott Foundation. 


Samuel H. Kress Foundation, trustee. 

Teachers College, Columbia University, trustee. 

UNESCO Conference on the Book, U.S. representative, 1973, 

United Nations Association, director. 

United States Committee for a United Nations University. 

University of Missouri at Kansas City Medical School, 
advisory council member. 

University of Notre Dame, library council member. 

Veterans Administration Medical Advisory Group, 
Washington, D.C. 

World Federalists Association ( formerly United World 
Federalists), president. 


Thomas Jefferson Award for Advancement of Democracy in 
Journalism, 1948. 

Tuition Plan Award for outstanding service to American 
education, 1951. 

City of Hiroshima Award, 1951. 

Benjamin Franklin citation in magazine journalism, 1956. 

Wayne University Award for national service to 
education, 1956. 

Humanitarian of the Year Award, 1956. 

Layne Bryant citation for public service, 1958. 

John Dewey Award for service to education, 1958. 

New York State Citizens Education Commission Award, 1959. 

Personal Medallion of Pope John XXIII, 1962. 

Eleanor Roosevelt Peace Award, 1963. 

Publius Award, New York metropolitan committee of United 
World Federalists, 1964. 

Overseas Press Club Award, 1965. 

Distinguished Citizen Award, Connecticut Bar 
Association, 1965. 

American Peace Award, 1957. 

Aquinas College Annual Award, 1968. 

Family of Man Award, 1968. 

New York Academic Publishing Education Award, 1968. 

National Magazine Award, Association of Deans of 
Journalism Schools, 1969. 

Carr Van Anda Award for contributions to journalism, 
Ohio University, 1971. 

United Nations Peace Medal, 1971. 

Gold Medal for literature. National Arts Club, 1972. 

Irita Van Doren Book Award, 1972. 

Journalism Honor Award, University of Missouri School of 
Journalism, 1972. 

Award for service to the environment, government of 
Canada, 1973. 

Henry Johnson Fisher Award, Magazine Publishers 
Association, 1973. 

Human Resources Award, 1977. 

Convocation Medal, American College of Cardiology, 1978. 

Author of the Year Award, American Society of 
Journalists and Authors, 1981. 

Gold Medal, Teachers College, Columbia University, 1987. 

Myasthenia Gravis Foundation Humanitarian of the Year, 

Neil H. Jacoby International Award, 1987. 

Commonwealth Award for distinguished service in 
journalism and mass communication, 1986. 



The Good Inheritance: The Democratic Chance. New York: 
Coward-McCann, 1942. 

Modern Man Is Obsolete. New York: Viking Press, 1945. 

Talks with Nehru. New York: John Day, 1951. 

Who Speaks for Man? New York: MacMillan, 1953. 

Dr. Schweitzer of Lambarene. New York: Harper & Row, 

In Place of Folly. New York: Washington Square Press, 

Present Tense: An American Editor's Odyssey. New York: 
McGraw-Hill, 1967. 

The Improbable Triumvirate: John F. Kennedy, Pope John, 
Nikita Khrushchev. New York: W.W. Norton, 1972. 

The Celebration of Life: A Dialogue on Immortality and 
Infinity. New York: Harper & Row, 1974. 

Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient: 
Reflections on Healing and Regeneration. New York: W.W. 
Norton, 1979. 

Human Options: An Autobiographical Notebook. New York: 
W.W. Norton, 1981. 

The Healing Heart: Antidotes to Panic and Helplessness. 

New York: W.W. Norton, 1983. 

The Words of Albert Schweitzer. New York: Newmarket 
Press, 1984. 

Albert Schweitzer's Mission: Healing and Peace. New 
York: W.W. Norton, 1983. 

The Pathology of Power. New York: W.W. Norton, 1987. 

The Human Adventure, a Camera Chronicle. Old Saybrook: 
Saybrook Press, 1988. 

Head First: The Biology of Hope. New York: E.P. 
Dutton, 1989. 




Andrew D. Basiago, Researcher/ Interviewer, UCLA Oral 
History Program; B.A., History, UCLA. 


Place: Cousins 's office, UCLA. 

Dates, length of sessions: October 27, 1986 (51 
minutes); November 3, 1986 (64); January 30, 1987 (65); 
February 17, 1987 (60); February 24, 1987 (65); October 
20, 1987 (79); November 2, 1987 (70); November 23, 1987 
(79); December 21, 1987 (74); January 19, 1988 (69); 
February 3, 1988 (80); March 2, 1988 (71); March 29, 
1988 (42); May 9, 1988 (53); June 7, 1988 (49); June 28, 
1988 (54); July 6, 1988 (30); July 13, 1988 (63); August 
1, 1988 (54); August 8, 1988 (59); August 15, 1988 (25). 

Total number of recorded hours: 21 

Persons present during interview: Cousins and Basiago. 


The interviewer began his research in preparation for 
the interview by reviewing Norman Cousins ' s collection 
at the UCLA Department of Special Collections and at 
Cousins 's private archive in Beverly Hills, California. 
United States Senator Alan Cranston's office provided a 
chronology of Cousins 's peace activities, published in 
his Nobel Peace Prize nomination. The interviewer also 
read Cousins 's books and many of his editorials in the 
Saturday Review of Literature. Cousins provided the 
interviewer access to two works in progress during the 
course of the interview, one a memoir of Cousins 's 
career at the UCLA School of Medicine. The interviewer 
conducted further research on Cousins 's public career in 
the New York Times ( 1940-present ) . 

The interview proceeds chronologically, beginning with 
Cousins 's position with Current History and extending 
through his career at UCLA. The interviewee and 
interviewer agreed to give minimal attention to his 
career at the Saturday Review of Literature, extensively 
chronicled elsewhere. The interview examines Cousins 's 
activities in peace and antinuclear movements since the 


1940s, his writing, his struggle with ankylosing 
spondylitis--a serious degenerative collagen disease-- 
and his subsequent interest in helping other patients 
with life-threatening illnesses to help themselves. 
The interview includes extensive discussion of the 
United World Federalists, the Committee for a Sane 
Nuclear Policy (SANE), Cousins 's diplomatic work, and 
his friendship with important political leaders of the 
post-World-War-II world. 

A break in the interview occurred between February and 
October of 1987 while the interviewer conducted further 


Bryce Little, assistant editor, edited the interview. 
He checked the verbatim transcript of the interview 
against the original tape recordings, edited for 
punctuation, paragraphing, and spelling, and verified 
proper names. Words and phrases inserted by the editor 
have been bracketed . 

Cousins reviewed the transcript. He verified proper 
names and made minor corrections and additions. 

Steven J. Novak, editor, prepared the table of 
contents. Paul Winters, editorial assistant, prepared 
the biographical summary and interview history. Teresa 
Barnett, editor, prepared the index. 


The original tape recordings of the interview are in 
the university archives and are available under the 
regulations governing the use of permanent noncurrent 
records of the university. Records relating to the 
interview are located in the office of the UCLA Oral 
History Program. 

The Norman Cousins Papers (Collection #1385) are located 
in the UCLA Department of Special Collections. 


OCTOBER 27, 1986 

COUSINS: Name, Norman Cousins. Born June 24, 1915, New 

BASIAGO: Well, I think we've set the stage. We'll explore 
your years at Current History, a leading periodical . From 
1937-40 you were serving as book editor for Current 
History, and then you moved up the editorial ladder. At 
that time that opportunity afforded you a chance to examine 
contemporary affairs during pivotal years in the history of 
global organization--war in China and Spain threatened to 
set fire to Asia and Europe. Leading journalists were 
writing works still used in college classes today to 
analyze nations, leaders, and ideas of political order. 
How did you get the job at Current History? How did that 
all come about? It sounds like a remarkable opportunity. 
COUSINS: It was. I had been a cub reporter on what was 
then the New York Evening Post. The Post at that time had 
been a very conservative newspaper, not just politically, 
but in terms of its approach to journalism, its general 
design. It was in large part, I suppose, a newspaper 
designed for members of the financial community. Most of 
its circulation, in fact, was in the downtown area, near 
where the Post itself had been located at 75 West Street, 
overlooking the docks, near the Battery. I originally had 

been what is known as a "stringer" for the Post, which is 
to say someone on a list who would be called in when all 
the other reporters were occupied or someone who would 
cover, let's say, sports events, which I had done. Then 
in view of my Teachers College connection, when they 
decided to start an education page, I was assigned to 

The editor of the education page was a man named 
Leonard M. Leonard. And after I think a year and a half or 
two, Leonard decided to leave the Post to join with a 
neighbor who lived in Huntington, Long Island, to publish 
Current History. Current History was a magazine founded by 
the New York Times at the end of World War I for the 
purpose of addressing itself to the new interest in the 
United States in world affairs. It was directed mainly at 
scholars. As a monthly journal, it reviewed the principal 
events of the month, published documents, and was the 
forerunner of the news weeklies and journals. But in 1937 
I guess the New York Times decided to sell Current 
History. M. E. [Merle E.] Tracy, who had been a longtime 
newspaper editor, offered to buy it from the Times for ten 
thousand dollars, I think. M. E. Tracy was a neighbor of 
Leonard M. Leonard's in Huntington, Long Island, and asked 
Leonard to be his right-hand man in editing the magazine, 
and Leonard asked me to be his right-hand man. 

BASIAGO: How did you meet Leonard? 

COUSINS: Leonard was the editor of the education page. 
BASIAGO: Oh, I see. It was a direct connection then. 
COUSINS: Yes. On the New York Post. So I met Tracy at 
Leonard's request. Tracy then had established a little 
office for himself in contemplation of publishing Current 
History. The office was in the old Chanin Building on 
Forty-second Street and Lexington Avenue in New York 
City. I went to see Tracy. He was a very large man, 
blind, but not only had an encyclopedic mind but spoke like 
an encyclopedia. I learned that his view of the world and 
history was largely shaped by his reading of the eleventh 
edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, which he had 
virtually committed to memory. I suppose that if anyone 
had a choice of an edition of an encyclopedia to memorize, 
it would be the eleventh edition, because this was probably 
the most complete encyclopedia ever published. 
BASIAGO: I found a list of the Great Books [of the Western 
World] in your files from these years. Did you start to 
emulate that method of self-education? 

COUSINS: Well, we're getting ahead of ourselves. Wouldn't 
you like me to complete the question about Current History? 
BASIAGO: All right. 

COUSINS: Tracy asked me to do two things: first to help 
on Current History, and second to help to be his eyes. I 

would scour the magazines and also new books and then mark 
out the passages that I would read to him. That was a 
vastly educational experience for both of us. I learned 
one thing that was very valuable, and that was how to 
convert language into meaning. 

Tracy, I'd always felt, had lived six thousand years-- 
I've written about this. Since his connection with both 
the contemporary world and historic world came to him 
through his fingertips, through Braille, both had the same 
sense of reality. In following the events of the day or in 
following the historical events, he had the same sense of 
immediacy and reality about both. Consequently, it was as 
though he had actually lived through, as I say, six 
thousand years of history, because the reality that history 
had for him was exactly the same as the living reality. I 
suppose that a little of that rubbed off on me, since we 
read the same things together as we went along. 

In reading about contemporary events he would offer 
comments about historical episodes that were relevant or 
that were suggested by the current readings. He had his 
favorites, to be sure: Suetonius ' s Lives of the Twelve 
Caesars, Redpath ' s History of the World, Polybius ' s 
Macedonia, Thucydides on the Peloponnesian Wars [History of 
the Peloponnesian War] . Our discussions of those books 
were made vivid for me as well. Not too many years later I 

was able to lean on these readings in a little book I did 
about early political experiences of Greece [The Good 
Inheritance: The Democratic Chance] and the significance 
they had for the American founding fathers, at least as 
evidenced by The Federalist Papers. 

My work on Current History began, as you said, as 
literary editor. I would review perhaps eight, ten, or a 
dozen books each month in the field of world affairs, so I 
got to know the work of authorities in different fields. 
The emphasis taken by Current History was somewhat 
different from that given it by the New York Times. The 
Times was interested in supplying records of the month for 
historians and scholars. We broadened, or tried to 
broaden, this appeal for serious readers who were 
interested in world affairs but who were not necessarily 
scholars. Looking back on the magazine today, I probably 
would say it was more scholarly than I thought at the time, 
but that is due to change now in terms of, oh, definitions 
of what scholarly materials are. Since our frame of 
reference then was what we were trying to do under the New 
York Times, I suppose our feeling that it had a broader 
base was perhaps justified. 

BASIAGO: I selected a passage that I think reflects the 
tone of almost all the pieces you wrote at that time--I'm 
speaking of the book reviews. For a November 1937 article 

you wrote, [reads] "It is a strange and uneasy peace, for 
all around us the stage is being cleared for another world 
conflict. And if we are to believe history, we will have a 
difficult time keeping out of it." What were some of the 
most relevant ideas about war and peace from antiquity that 
you drew from this survey of classical--? 
COUSINS: Can you identify that particular passage? 
BASIAGO: That was for November of 1937. I don't have the 
particular text. I selected it because I think it typifies 
the ominous mood-- 
COUSINS: It does, yes. 

BASIAGO: --that had an effect, I think, on all of your 
work at that time. 

COUSINS: It did. Almost everything that's happened since 
that period and the period that goes through to the end of 
the war-- Almost everything that has happened since that 
time is, I suppose, something of a leisurely footnote to 
events. Complicated and dangerous though the times may now 
seem, I don't suppose that anything could be more volatile 
or hazardous or perilous than that particular period. It's 
not that the scale of destruction was a real factor. 
Obviously our destructive capabilities are much greater 
today than they were then; the consequences of war would 
certainly be incomparably more serious. But since life 
tends to be run by things readily recognizable, a fact of 

living horror had greater impact then than the fact of 
pervasive death today. When you have to cope with 
destruction of values, as apart from physical destruction, 
you tend to be more engaged intellectually, emotionally, 
spiritually perhaps. It was a time of tremendous urgency 
and blistering reality for all of us. I was caught up in 
it, obviously, by way of magazine journalism, since Current 
History was dealing with different aspects of the 

BASIAGO: As you made your survey of writings of classical 
history under Tracy's tutelage--actually for him--were 
there any epiphanies that you had that you thought had 
particular relevance to our present time? 

COUSINS: Yes. I was especially interested in the reasons 
for the fall of Athens and the Greek states in general and 
especially in the failure of the Greek states to 
federate. There had been various attempts at it, but none 
of them had reached the point where it was possible to 
eliminate the rivalries among the Greek states or the 
mutual insecurity because of the lack of a common security 
structure. I read [Alexander] Hamilton and [James] Madison 
and [John] Jay in The Federalist Papers and saw that this 
was their perception too, that what meant a great deal to 
the authors of The Federalist as they combed through 
history for relevant guides was the historic example of the 

failure of Greek states almost at the height of their 
development to achieve a political form that was workable 
for the entire group. The failure to achieve that form, 
they believed, resulted in the breakdown of that society. 
So that even before World War II broke out, I became aware 
of certain historical principles which pertained to the 
operation of large aggregations, and the events of the war 
themselves gave substance to these concerns. 
BASIAGO: One of the things I find most remarkable about 
your work for Current History was that you were in your 
early twenties and you were already voicing some of the 
unpopular ideas you would defend throughout your career. 
I'm wondering if there were particular writers who you were 
reviewing whose work influenced your ideas regarding world 
federation. You've just mentioned Greek history. I 
located one reference. This is to James Harvey Robinson's 
work The Human Comedy. [reads] "Robinson, " you wrote, 
"thought of life as a human comedy, a drama in which man 
was never able to learn enough from history to fashion for 
himself an existence which knew neither war nor intensities 
of economic injustices. Had Professor Robinson lived one 
more year to see the Second World War which is now in the 
making, he probably would have pushed back a bit his 
estimate of the day when man would be sufficiently advanced 
to enter the fuller life. Just as man has learned, even if 


only after repeated unfortunate experiences, that he must 
build his home in such a manner that it will resist wind 
and water, so will he eventually come to the realization 
that he must build against other destructive forces--war, 
famine, and intense nationalism. " Were you traveling in a 
certain circle of intellectuals who were exploring all 
these ideas? I find antecedents to ideas perhaps later 
expressed by [R.] Buckminster Fuller and others of your 
contemporaries. Were you already in that milieu of world 
federalist thinkers? 

COUSINS: No, no. That came in 1944, or at least began in 
1944. Up to this time it represented an association with 
historical principles and with the certain authors that I 
mentioned. We might add to them John Stuart Mill and 
[John] Locke and [Jean- Jacques] Rousseau and Edmund Burke, 
all of whom were concerned with freedom, not just as a 
desirable state, but with the conditions of freedom. That 
was what concerned me primarily. What were the 
circumstances that made freedom possible? What was the 
connection between political structure and the 
philosophical ideas that developed inside that structure? 

In 1944 a group in the East, a group of individuals 
who discovered an affinity for each other as the result of 
their concern about nazism even before America entered the 
war, had stayed together. Now this group came together to 

form an organization called Americans United for World 
Organization. The underlying fuel for their energies came 
from the experience of the United States after World War I, 
when the ground was not prepared for Americans' participa- 
tion in world organization. This group came together now 
anticipating that we would have to go beyond the League of 
Nations, but that it became necessary to prepare American 
public opinion so that a president would not have to go 
through the same kind of ordeal and defeat that was 
experienced by [Woodrow] Wilson after World War I. Even 
before the war ended, this particular group was involved in 
public education, helping to send certain senators-- [ Joseph 
H.] Ball and [Carl A.] Hatch, I think--across the country 
to talk about the need for effective world organization. 

But the moment the bomb was dropped we realized that 
world organization was not enough, that we had to start 
talking about world government. I will never forget the 
meetings that we had at the old Murray Hill Hotel in New 
York City, since demolished. At our first meeting-- It 
came, oh, maybe no more than four or five days after the 
bomb was dropped. I'd just completed writing an editorial 
called "Modern Man Is Obsolete" based on that bomb. When 
we convened, it developed that we were all thinking the 
same thing, that the United Nations [UN] that had been 
formed at San Francisco couldn't possibly meet the problems 


that would ensue in the postwar world, given the fact of 
atomic weapons and all those things that were apt to be 
connected to it. 

BASIAGO: Who were some of the principals involved there 
with Americans United for World Organization? 
COUSINS: A man by the name of Ulric Bell; Leo [M.] Cherne; 
Thomas K. Finletter, who was to become the secretary of the 
air force; James Goldsmith; Clark [M. ] Eichelberger, who 
was to become the executive director of [the] United 
Nations Association; Rex T. Stout, the writer; one or two 

BASIAGO: I'm wondering about the influence of the work of 
Clarence Kirshman Streit on your ideas and on this 
particular organization. Just to refresh your memory, in 
his work Union Now in 1940 Streit called for a nucleus 
world government and provided an elaborate plan for federal 
union of the Atlantic democracies in five fields. The 
Union of the North Atlantic, as he wished it to be called, 
would have a union government and citizenship, defense 
force, customs- free economy, money, and postal and 
communications system. Had you met Streit? 
COUSINS: Oh, yes. I was very fond of Clarence Streit, a 
superb human being in terms of intelligence, integrity, 
dedication. But it seemed to me that Union Now was pre- 
atomic, that it was the sort of thing that might have 


helped to avert World War II, but I wasn't sure that it was 

as relevant as it ought to be in averting World War III. 

It was always preoccupied with Europe and with the kind of 

alliance that would have enabled us either to have 

prevented World War II or to have given a better account of 

ourselves than we did when we fought it. But the end of 

the war changed the shape of the world. Now you had the 

Soviet Union and the nations of the East. It seemed to me 

that the last thing in the world we ought to do is to give 

the impression that we were creating a legal rationale for 

an alliance, and I also thought that the Soviet reaction to 

this would help to polarize the problem between the two 

worlds. In short, it seemed to me to be a better device of 

fighting World War III than for averting it. 

BASIAGO: Grenville Clark observed that it divided the 

world along racial and class lines, and he thought it might 

have actually been a fuse point to World War III. 

COUSINS: He said much better than I've just said what the 

problem was. 

BASIAGO: This original group, were they also enthusiasts 

of Streit or was that--? 

COUSINS: Some were and for good reason. 

BASIAGO: Were you introduced to him or did you meet him by 


COUSINS: I had known him on Current History. 


BASIAGO: As a contributor? 
COUSINS: Yes. And I liked him. 

BASIAGO: He seemed to want to organize this Atlantic Union 
along what nation states possessed in common rather than 
along their differences. Some of the criteria he gave were 
that this particular group of fifteen nations, not only 
were they the ones that had not yet fallen to Nazi 
aggression, but were linguistically divided only along 
English and French, and that they composed nearly three 
hundred million world citizens. What do you know about 
Streit's background that might have lead him to take this 
approach rather than a more transnational--? 
COUSINS: Well, first a parenthetical preface. When you 
spoke about the linguistic factor, I thought of [George] 
Bernard Shaw's remark that the English and Americans were 
two wonderful peoples separated by the same language. To 
talk of language and commonalities as Streit did seemed to 
me actually to emphasize the weaknesses of the Union Now 
approach. Where we came together was in terms of our 
belief in federalist principles for bringing together 
nations. Where we parted was on our side the feeling that 
he was basing his concept of federalism on the principle of 
exclusivity, whereas he felt that our weakness was that we 
were being indiscriminate and that the admission standards 
were too low. 


Grenville Clark was right: we had to look ahead to 
the problems of a bipolar world. Clark was right too in 
invoking the federalist experience in the United States, or 
at least the constitutional debates, to justify his feeling 
that if you had a geographical unit, the extent of the 
differences define the need to convert that unit into a 
workable structure. So the ideological differences between 
the United States and the Soviet Union in Clark ' s mind 
actually defined the need rather than the obstacles. 
BASIAGO: Streit gave this rationale for his Atlantic 
Union: that these particular nations had not warred with 
one another for one hundred years. At the same time he 
observed that these nations owned nearly 50 percent of 
every essential war material and almost all of the world's 
banked gold. Do you think his proposal can be separated 
from pressing military considerations? 
COUSINS: No. As I say, it seemed to be a legalizing 
procedure for a coalition against the Soviet Union. And 
just in that litany you just read you can anticipate how 
all these organs would be used vis-a-vis the Soviet 
Union. Now, in Streit ' s favor we have to recognize that 
we're dealing with a Stalinist Russia, where the major 
Soviet foreign policy was shaped by the irrational and 
unpredictable actions associated with [Joseph] Stalin, and 
at the end of the war you had Czechoslovakia as an 


example. So that in taking a position against Streit, we 
also had to recognize that he was not flying blind. But we 
were trying to look beyond Stalin to certain historical 
situations and trying to avert a war which in the context 
of nuclear weapons could be suicidal for all concerned. 
BASIAGO: You mentioned the connection to the failure of 
the League of Nations. This group obviously was aware of 
the nations that were being expelled from the League of 
Nations--Japan in 1933, Germany in 1935, Italy in 1937. 
How were they grappling with that reality, that the League 
was disintegrating? Would they prefer to not have nations 
expelled despite fundamental differences in political 

COUSINS: In the federalist theology the greater the 
problem, the greater the need to keep that problem from 
breaking up the group. The essence of federalism is to 
devise means for dealing with breakup situations. No one 
in the federalist movement after 1945 minimized the 
differences that would have to be accommodated within the 
world structure, but we found it necessary too to divide 
these differences between those that belonged to ideology 
or culture or politics and those that flowed out of the 
fact of world anarchy. We had to identify underlying 
situations and those factors that intensified the 
underlying situations. When we made that distinction 


between the two, we recognized that the federalist approach 
gave us the best chance for making distinctions and also 
creating the structure that could deal with them. 
BASIAGO: Was there a feeling that the League of Nations 
wasn't truly federalist? Streit observed that leagues tend 
to work against "one man, one vote." Because a nation, 
regardless of population, has one vote. 

COUSINS: Are you talking about the League of Nations or 
the United Nations? 
BASIAGO: The League of Nations. 

COUSINS: The League of Nations could not be considered 
remotely as a federation nor even a confederation. The 
League of Nations was an association where standards were 
defined but not prescribed and where the behavior of 
nations essentially was left to the good sense of the 
nations themselves rather than to any structural means for 
dealing with departures from prescribed conduct. 


OCTOBER 27, 1986 

BASIAGO: What were some of the more practical alternatives 
to the League of Nations that this particular group of 
thinkers was putting forth to achieve a more federalist 

COUSINS: Well, when Americans United for World 
Organization came to be, we were thinking primarily of the 
need for a public commitment rather than what the structure 
itself would be. After Americans United for World 
Organization became Americans United for World Government, 
the emphasis was shifted to the kind of organization we 
would have and not just to the need to persuade the 
American people to become part of it. Our concern at that 
time was directed not to the League of Nations but to the 
United Nations. We had to take into account, of course, 
the failures under the League of Nations, which were also 
illumined by the experiences that were described in The 
Federalist Papers, Madison and Hamilton and so forth. Our 
discussions therefore were not directed mostly to the 
League but to the UN and how best to change it in terms of 
the situation that existed and was likely to be . I had 
several meetings with Streit. 

BASIAGO: Yeah. I'm rather unclear really what the 
involvement was with Mr. Streit. 


COUSINS: Attempts were made to bring us together. Two or 
three of the members of Americans United for World 
Government were also on his central board. Charles McKee, 
for example, whose name I didn't mention before-- We did 
have several meetings with key members of Union Now and key 
members of ours, as well as several separate meetings 
between Streit and myself. We got along very well. 
Certainly there was no difference between us on what was 
meant by federalism or the principles of it. 

The main difference had to do with what the effect 
would be of a Union Now-type of organization in the context 
of the situations that developed at the end of the war and 
the fact that we would actually, as I felt, alienate the 
majority of the world's peoples and create a very dangerous 
situation. What we ought to do, it seemed to me, is to 
deal with this very fact of division and find some workable 
means for dealing with it, rather than to formalize the 
division. He, for his part, was concerned with the 
situation as it then existed, with the fact that there was 
no basis for getting together with the Soviet Union, indeed 
no basis for getting together with [any of] the larger 

BASIAGO: I'd like to survey the impact various visions of 
world federation had on the vision that you helped 
construct in the fifties. Apparently Streit had been privy 


to secret dispatches between Wilson, [Georges] Clemenceau 

and [David] Lloyd George, and our American diplomats in 

Washington right after World War I . Did you ever have any 

discussions with him about his particular involvement from 

that period? 


BASIAGO: So you really had no discussion with Streit about 

his background. Had you heard anything? 

COUSINS: Yes, he'd written about it. He was a journalist 

who reported these events- It seemed to me, again, that 

what he was attempting to do was to meet a situation that 

belonged in the past rather than one that would anticipate 

the problems that existed at the end of World War II. 

BASIAGO: We might characterize this time as a period in 

American history when the nation was really split between 

two visions of the future, one an isolationist vision where 

we would not defend Britain and more or less concern 

ourselves with our own economic struggles- - 

COUSINS: Talking about the 1930s now? 

BASIAGO: Yeah, now we're in the late thirties again. 

Contrasted with an anticipation that our democratic 

principles and alliance would soon find itself in a war 


COUSINS: Yes. You see what happened was that a tremendous 

momentum had been set up in the 1930s where we were 


reacting not only against the involvement in World War I 
but against war in general. It was a period marked by the 
Oxford Oath, by a pervasive pacifism, not so much a 
pacifism that had its origins in religious belief but in 
political reality. Then also we were muckraking over the 
munitions makers in World War I and their part in fomenting 
the general situation. Consequently we were moving in 
opposite directions in the late thirties with the advent of 
Hitlerism. Part of the American intellectual mind had been 
swept up in reaction against World War I and part of it was 
alive to the meaning and implications of Hitlerism. It was 
very difficult to resolve and led to contrary actions and 
thoughts. But the clarifying experience, it seemed to me, 
came with the beginning of World War II, with the German- 
Russian nonaggression pact [Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression 
Pact] in 1939, with the fall of Finland, the rapid advance 
through Poland, and the collapse of France. The earlier 
confusion dissipated very rapidly. By the middle of 1941, 
I think that the contrary tendencies in American 
intellectual thought had been resolved. 
BASIAGO: Your work reviewing these various works, 
discussing the failure of the League of Nations-- I 
believe you discussed a work which treated Krupp, the 
arms manufacturer, and its role in fomenting World War 
I. How did you look ahead to the potential conflict that 


America might find itself in? Were you planning to fight 

COUSINS: What date are we talking about? 
BASIAGO: We're still in the late 1930s. Here you are, 
you're in your early twenties, you're aware of these 

COUSINS: I was split down the middle. I wasn't 
intellectually torn in the sense that I would wake up 
debating with myself which way to go, but I certainly knew 
that I was being pushed in contrary directions. First, 
there was still the momentum of the Oxford Oath symbolism 
and the manipulation of public opinion during World War 
I. But then I was also forced to open my eyes to the 
horrors of Hitlerism. Finally, in 1938 I guess it was, 
when William Allen White formed his Committee to Defend 
America by Aiding the Allies, the ambiguity ceased. It was 
at that time that I recognized that it takes two to stay 
out of a war and that all the arguments we had used against 
World War II had little validity against Hitlerism. So I 
joined the Committee to Defend America by Aiding the 
Allies, I think it was in '38. Things moved very swiftly 
then. I remember in 1938, I guess it was, having a meeting 
with [Alfred] Duff Cooper, who became the minister of the 
admiralty under [Winston] Churchill. He'd just written a 
book [The Second World War] . It was about 1940, when it 


was a quiescent war. Poland having been conquered, Germany 
had not yet moved against France, and it seemed to many of 
us that this thing would just run its course, just dry 
up. But again we were shattered out of that absurd idea by 
the rapid advance of Germany, beginning I think in the 
middle of 1940, against France. 

BASIAGO: Do you think that by 1941, when we felt it 
necessary to enter the war, that we ultimately did our part 
to in some ways fulfill Streit's vision? We came to the 
aid of Great Britain and were effective in defending a 
number of the nations that found themselves in this 
original group. 

COUSINS: It was a pretty late start, and we were fighting 
for our life then too. As a matter of fact, we didn't get 
into the war until we were attacked, so that Streit's 
design philosophically and structurally really did not 
apply. But I have no doubt that if we had accepted 
Streit's ideas, let's say in 1939 or 1940, history might 
have been different. I think he was right about that 
particular situation. But the situation, you see, changed 
very rapidly as the war developed and certainly at the end 
of the war, and that was why we thought we needed a larger 

BASIAGO: You seem to suggest that the heritage of pacifism 
from World War I instilled a certain degree of inertia. 


Are you saying it impeded America's response? 
COUSINS: Well, intellectual America was not the whole of 
America, and so I can't say what the country as a whole 
thought. I certainly don't know whether the country as a 
whole was impeded by it, but it's certainly true that the 
intellectually visible part of America was. Whether that 
had a substantial effect on the whole I can't say, but it 
also did on government, of course. 

BASIAGO: You mentioned your endorsement of White's 
program. When we ultimately did find ourselves in the war, 
did you seek to enlist or wait to be drafted or how did 
that work itself out? 

COUSINS: Well, I was in effect drafted to edit the 
magazine USA. I'd had tuberculosis as a kid and my doctor 
told me I didn't have a chance of passing the physical 
because of the calcification on my lungs. When I did go up 
for my physical, that was exactly the finding. My feelings 
about it, such as they were, were certainly eased when I in 
effect was drafted to edit USA. Before that I was the head 
of the Victory Book Campaign, which collected books for 
shipments overseas to our soldiers. 


NOVEMBER 3, 1986 

BASIAGO: I'm interested in how you met Charles [A.] Beard, 
a contributor to Current History, a scholar of an economic 
interpretation of the Constitution, and someone who wasn't 
very enthusiastic about any meddling by the United States 
in European affairs. 

COUSINS: Beard was a historian. He intended to follow the 
strict view that America was created in the attempt to tear 
free of the kind of entanglements that had disfigured so 
much of European history. In that respect he was almost 
Washingtonian, and this led him, as it led a number of 
other people, [Charles A.] Lindbergh, for example, to a 
rather strict view. But most American intellectuals in the 
1930s, certainly the 1920s, had that strong feeling of 
distaste for Balkan politics and for involvements with 
Europe. Most intellectuals had a profound distaste for 
war, as they did in England, and Beard was just one of the 
high priests. 

BASIAGO: You apparently believed he was wrong in that 
view. Even in the late thirties, as the war was just 
beginning, you noted that being against any American 
attempt to bring order out of Europe's chaos, he [reads] 
"minimizes the mutuality of our problems with foreign 
nations and seems to think we can work out our destiny 


without paying too much attention to the fate of Europe." 

So you had a suspicion then that he was wrong. What gave 

you that suspicion? 

COUSINS: We were all going through a period of agonizing 

reappraisal. The very large intellectual surge against 

World War I and towards pacifism that existed throughout 

the twenties and the momentum of which carried then into 

the thirties had created this dichotomy. It took us some 

time to come out of it. Adolf Hitler was the principal 

reason for the change. We were confronted then with a 

threat that we realized couldn't be met by the kind of 

thinking that had captured us in the 1920s and early 1930s. 

BASIAGO: Beard called his idea "continentalism" rather 

than "isolationism." Did it become particularly outmoded 

following the advent of intercontinental ballistic 

missiles, in the sense that the United States could no 

longer protect itself geographically? 

COUSINS: The best way of answering your question is, 


BASIAGO: Do you feel that looking back, though, on perhaps 

some lingering truths from Beard's concerns that we not 

entangle ourselves as Washington had warned us, that there 

were things we lost by our entanglement in European 


COUSINS: I think so. I think other things being equal it 


would be nice to be free to carry out or try to complete 
the design, but the question became very academic. 
BASIAGO: John Gunther was another leading writer 
associated with Current History during your years there. 
He made a career of expanding a rather globalist outlook. 
At least he was concerned, it seems, in fostering greater 
understanding on the part of Americans about other nations 
and continents in such works as Inside Asia and Inside 
Africa. Did his view of history in the making have any 
impact upon later journalistic projects you would 

COUSINS: Gunther ' s first book--vastly successful--was 
called Inside Europe. It was very well written, very fast- 
paced, a great deal of personal and anecdotal material. It 
became a Book-of-the-Month Club selection and started a 
trend of books by other foreign correspondents. As usually 
happens when a book is a success, all the publishers jump 
in to try to replicate it. You had a book by John 
Whittaker and another one by Edgar Ansel Mowrer of the 
Chicago Daily News, which had a very good corps of foreign 
correspondents- -a long trail of books by foreign 
correspondents, the effect of which I think was to give 
people more intimate understanding of other parts of the 
world than they had previously known. 
BASIAGO: You were still quite a young writer at that time. 


Were you developing plans? Thinking, "My, Gunther's had a 
lot of success in this area. I think I'll undertake an at- 
tempt to illuminate the country about India's politics or--" 
COUSINS: I suppose I had many exalted ideas at the time, 
but that was not one of them. 

BASIAGO: Did you borrow anything from his writing 
methods? I note that his personality sketches approximate 
what you later developed for your book Human Options: [An 
Autobiographical Notebook] . Was there any borrowing there 
from his approach? 

COUSINS: He was very pithy. He had pinpoint 
characterizations and had a gift for the vivid example, but 
I don't think he invented that kind of vivid journalism. I 
think it was one of the staples of the trade. 
BASIAGO: Manuel [L.] Quezon he said was "elastic and 
electric. " 

COUSINS: Say that slowly. 

BASIAGO: Quezon, of the Philippines, he described as 
"elastic and electric." Chiang Kai-shek he found "shrewd, 
suspicious, and calculating, " while his wife [Soong Mai- 
ling] was "alert, amusing, smoothly polished, full of 
graceful small talk." Do you think that writers like this 
tend to minimize both world leaders and slightly patronize 
other nations and cultures? 
COUSINS: He certainly missed the mark on some in his 


desire to get a quick portrait. I'm not sure that he 

really understood Gandhi. He did a better job of 

understanding [Jawaharlal] Nehru. I think he completely 

missed the boat with [Albert] Schweitzer. 

BASIAGO: I found that he found Gandhi "an incredible 

combination of Jesus Christ--" 

COUSINS: And Tammany Hall. 

BASIAGO: "--Tammany Hall and your father." Was there an 

attempt on your part to-- I'm pretty sure how you're going 

to answer this, but were you aware at that time that 

perhaps he was not seeing people of other cultures and 

nations clearly? 

COUSINS: No, I had a very high regard for John Gunther, 

and still do. The fact that he tended to jump in and out 

was clear. In one sense it was a tribute to him that even 

on the basis of fast, short exposure, he was able to get a 

very vivid picture. That was to his credit. But sometimes 

it worked to his discredit, as in the case of Schweitzer 

and possibly of Gandhi. 

BASIAGO: He seemed to be focusing a lot of attention in 

his works, the Inside Africa, Inside Europe series, on 

personalities. Did you come to reject his emphasis upon 

the more or less great-man school of history? Do you think 

that was one of the foibles? 

COUSINS: In the context of journalism rather than of 


history, that approach is justified. I think that if the 

historian tried to view history in those terms, he'd be 

vulnerable to serious criticism. But as a foreign 

correspondent, this is what Gunther was expected to do, and 

he did it very well but not always accurately. 

BASIAGO: I believe you said that he characterized Nehru 

quite accurately. When you did meet Nehru and publish your 

Talks with Nehru, you found that the man you had read about 

was the man you found? 

COUSINS: Yes, he was better with Nehru, I thought, than he 

was with Schweitzer. 

BASIAGO: He found Nehru "an Indian who had become a 

westerner, an aristocrat who had become a socialist." 

COUSINS: That's right. I think that Gunther had a good 

eye for juxtapositions and for paradox, and I think that 

the art of the writer is always someone who can identify 

the paradox. Not until you find the paradox of a human 

being do you really understand that human being. Gunther 

was a paradox searcher. He got at it very fast- -sometimes 

even when it didn't exist. 

BASIAGO: Did that dichotomy in Nehru's personal history 

fascinate you? 


BASIAGO: While you were at Current History or later? 

COUSINS: No, later. 


BASIAGO: I'm wondering whether your project with Nehru 
came about just through serendipity during your State 
Department tour or whether there were some plans there to 
go after Nehru and understand how this transition was 

COUSINS: I had an admiration for Nehru before I went, and 
not solely as the result of John Gunther. I liked the 
intellectuality of Nehru, and I was much taken with his 
Glimpses of World History, which is one of the most 
remarkable books I think ever written. Here in a book 
that runs to eight hundred pages or so you have an 
excursion through history, hundreds of historical events-- 
all of which he wrote without a single reference book, 
because he was in jail at the time. Just as a sheer feat 
of intellectuality I don't think it's ever been 
surpassed. His part in the Indian revolution tended to be 
more on the American model than on the Far Eastern 
model. And he did a beautiful balancing act. He always 
had to deal with the British; he had to deal with 
Gandhi. He could talk to the British in a way that Gandhi 
could not; he could talk to the Muslims very effectively 
with [Mohammed Ali] Jinnah. He knew a great deal about 
political engineering and human engineering. I'd always 
been fascinated with Nehru long before I went to see 


him. Of the two, Gandhi and Nehru, I tended to lean more 
towards Nehru in terms of the personal fascination that 
either man had for me. 

BASIAGO: Another important writer, someone that you've 
already mentioned, is G. A. [Giuseppe Antonio] Borgese . 
His work Goliath: The March of Fascism you reviewed. Did 
you meet him after his flight from Italy? 

BASIAGO: How did that meeting come about? 
COUSINS: He was a federalist of sorts. I say of sorts 
because he didn't fit into anything very well. He tended 
to draw everything to himself and individualize it. But he 
was a believer in a world constitution and worked with Bob 
[Robert Maynard] Hutchins in fashioning one. His wife, 
Elisabeth [Mann] Borgese, was the daughter of Thomas 
Mann. She became a very prominent federalist 
intellectually if not organizationally. 

BASIAGO: I'm curious about the connection between the 
world federalists and that community of Jewish and German 
expatriates who came to Southern California, I guess being 
Mann and Einstein and company. Were they the bridge 
between those two camps, those fundamentally fleeing 
fascism and then the original group on the East Coast who 
were thinking about world organization? 


COUSINS: I'm not sure I understand your question. 

BASIAGO: Were Borgese and his wife the connection between 

that group that came to, let's say. Pacific Palisades? I 

believe it also included Fritz Lang. 

COUSINS: Oh, I see your question. 

BASIAGO: And Einstein at Caltech [California Institute of 

Technology] . 

COUSINS: No, I think they were footnotes rather than the 

main text. There was a dominant drive to which they 

attached themselves, and they had a certain effect on it. 

But they were not the prime movers, though they tried to 


BASIAGO: Of course by 1945 we find Hutchins and the 

Borgeses founding the Committee to Frame a World 

Constitution. I was wondering whether there was a 

connection, too, during that time when Einstein visited 

Caltech, and essentially leading intellectuals were fleeing 


COUSINS: Einstein and Borgese, to the best of my 

knowledge, were not very close. Einstein's approach to 

world government was nothing that proceeded out of his 

knowledge of political science, which had been the case 

with Borgese. Einstein arrived at these conclusions under 

the heat of living history, and the conclusion was forced 

on him by day-to-day events. I don't think that he 


interacted very much with Borgese . Have you found evidence 
that he did? 

BASIAGO: I'm only assuming that there might have been a 
connection in Southern California between Mann's daughter, 
that community of intellectuals. 
COUSINS: If so I know nothing about it. 

BASIAGO: When did you meet Robert Hutchins and under what 

COUSINS: Oh, gosh, I find it very difficult to think of a 
time in my grown life when I didn't know him. Let me 
think, when did I first meet Bob Hutchins? [long pause] 
His interest in the Great Books with [Mortimer J.] Adler 
preceded his interest in world government, a world 
federation. We had some friendly differences about the 
Great Books. I had felt, looking through the Great Books, 
that the series had been misnamed. It should have been 
called the Great Books of the Western World. I didn't 
understand why the world ought to be divided intel- 
lectually. Yet I came to recognize that the Great Books 
themselves were a legitimate and very useful product, and I 
think he came to recognize too that he had to be explicit 
in describing them. But the notion of a great Western 
heritage and the way it was being presented at the time 
troubled me too. It seemed to suggest a certain 
provincialism, which was moving in the wrong direction. 


There may have been some correspondence in which I had 
raised these questions. 

I think I may have met him, as I did [Wendell L.] 
Willkie, at the Century Club by way of Beardsley Ruml, I'm 
not sure. But I took an immediate liking to the man when I 
met him. Then our families took a trip to Greece 
together. I forget when this was, but the Greek government 
had just launched the new ship the Queen Frederica and had 
invited Hutchins and Mrs. [Vesta Orlick] Hutchins and their 
daughter and John Roosevelt and his family and us. We took 
two of our kids, I think, and we went on that long trip 
together and got to know each other pretty well on that 
boat. We took shore leave at Rhodes and went up into the 
hills and the valley of the butterflies and took donkeys up 
the very steep mountain. It was amazing to watch Bob 
Hutchins on that donkey and his inability to find a place 
to put his feet, because if he let them hang it would 
produce excavations not less steep than the ancient ones of 
[Heinrich] Schliemann. 

BASIAGO: Around what time are we speaking of? 
COUSINS: Oh, probably the early fifties, '52 maybe. By 
that time we'd known each other, and we became good friends 
then. He would have me come out to the university--the 
combination of world federalism and his educational 
interests. Then we also triangulated with Bill [William] 


Benton, who was the owner of the Encyclopaedia Britannica 

and one of our neighbors in Connecticut, and that was 
another vantage point on Hutchins. Aspen [Institute for 
Humanistic Studies (Aspen, Colorado)] was yet another point 
of contact. I got out to Aspen several times at his 
invitation and at the invitation of Walter [P.] Paepcke and 
Mortimer Adler to conduct seminars and give courses out 
there. So we had a little cabal, our own little 
conspiratorial group. 

BASIAGO: It seems that you've emphasized your social 
relationship with Hutchins. I'm wondering if there was any 
intellectual transference. As the chancellor of the 
University of Chicago, he urged students to explore the 
great writings of the past because he felt there was too 
much of an emphasis upon technical studies. Had you any 
discussions with him before or after the bomb? 
COUSINS: Oh, yes. The interactions took place on a number 
of levels. On the genesis and development of the great 
ideas or the Great Books program at [University of] Chicago 
you might want to look at Mortimer Adler ' s autobiography, 
in which he describes his relationship with Hutchins and 
how that came out of Columbia [University] and spread to 
Chicago, or Saint John's [University] and then Chicago, 
that group with Stringfellow Barr. That will give you a 
very good view of how Hutchins got into the Great Books of 


the Western World. 

My own contacts with Adler, which probably began at 
the Saturday Review [of Literature] very, very early-- Yes 
it was very early. He had written an article called "How 
To Mark a Book," which we published. That could be 1941 
maybe, '40, '41. Once you write a letter to Adler you have 
to be prepared for a lifetime of correspondence. I never 
could make up my mind whether Adler wrote books faster than 
letters or letters faster than books, but both ran a 
race. He would always have new ideas that he would write 
you about . 

BASIAGO: Some of the books that you were reviewing for 
Current History introduced a theme which of course would 
become much more important after Trinity, which was that 
technology and science were getting out of control. When 
did you first begin thinking about these ideas in terms of 
your relationship with Hutchins? 

COUSINS: The first time I knew that science and technology 
were getting out of control was when I took a spill off my 
scooter at the age of seven and scraped my leg from toe to 
hip--but don't let me be facetious. Whatever putative 
ideas I may have had in this direction I think came full- 
size with the atomic bomb. That was when I really sat 
down, went off, and thought by myself, and wasn't just 
reacting to things I had read or to events, but where I 


felt it necessary to do some very sustained thinking. 
BASIAGO: In your discussion of your dealings with Hutchins 
you mentioned that you "triangulated" with another 
individual. Do I find the influence of Bucky [R. 
Buckminster] Fuller there, looking at things 
synergist ically? 

COUSINS: Bucky was not involved in that constellation with 
Adler and Hutchins and Benton or Borgese. Bucky didn't 
swim into my field of vision until some years later and 
that represents a somewhat different philosophical set of 
circumstances . 


NOVEMBER 3, 1986 

BASIAGO: When we last spoke, we discussed your years at 
Current History. We talked about the influence of the 
Athenian and federalist experiences on your vision of 
history and also the influence immediate events in Europe 
had on your approach to journalism. Would you agree with 
my conclusion that these were pivotal years in shaping your 
journalistic mission? 

COUSINS: Yes. You refer to my interest in certain periods 
of history. This is a combination of several things. With 
respect to ancient history, it was a result, if I understand 
what happened correctly, of my relationship with M. E. [Merle 
E.] Tracy, who had a very extensive library in ancient 
history. In addition to the standard books on the history of 
Greece, he had a number of works usually brought up in 
history classes. As we went through those books and as I 
began to see that period through his mind- -because I would 
read to him from these books and he would comment--! had a 
sense of proximity to those events which was somewhat the 
same as his own. That history interacted with my own special 
interest in the constitutional period of American history and 
later was to serve as the basis, or at least the stimulus, 
for a book called The Good Inheritance: [The Democratic 
Chance] , in which I tried to show the extent to which the 


historical interests of the American founding fathers, and 
especially in the Greek period of history, was reflected in 
the structure of government as reflected in the Constitution, 

Now, it was against this background that I was 
reacting to the events of the 1930s. I have a very vivid 
memory of where I was and what I was thinking at critical 
points along the way. For example, I remember listening to 
a radio news report about [Neville] Chamberlain's speech on 
"peace in our time, " and I remember going out into the 
street and thinking about that. I remember wondering 
whether he might be right after all. The need for hope at 
such a desperate time--and it was desperate--was so great 
that to have anyone, even through an umbrella, talk about 
the fact that peace was possible made you slow up. And 
then by the time I got to the other side of the street I 
recognized that I was grabbing at straws and that this 
particular straw had Mr. Chamberlain's umbrella attached to 
it. Oh, I remember early memories about Hitler coming to 
power: again, the occasional words of reassurance that 
came up or that he offered, and how trying to reach for the 
best or trying to think the best I would entertain the 
notion that, well, maybe Hitler ought to be heard and see 
what he really had in mind--only to fall back with the 
realization that this was part of a dreadful strategy. 
BASIAGO: In the course of reading the work from your four 


years at Current History, I found that with the exception 

of appropriate characterizations of Stalin and Hitler, you 

reserved negative criticism only for the Munich-misled 

Neville Chamberlain. What do you think Chamberlain's 

mistakes were? 

COUSINS: The same as my own, which is the tendency to 

expect the best of people, the desire not to allow even the 

smallest sign of hope to go untended or unnurtured. His 

philosophy in that respect, of course, was exploited to the 

detriment not just of the British people but of the 

world. The mistakes were very uncomplicated: he tried to 

translate his wishes for peace into a belief system that 

just wasn't justified. 

BASIAGO: Were you constantly struggling with memories of 

Chamberlain in trying to fashion a world federalist 


COUSINS: As I say, that federalist vision was pretty well 

developed earlier as a result both of the Athenian 

experience and of the American experience. That was the 

filter or the prism through which I tended to see current 

history, lower case c and lower case h. 

BASIAGO: How did his policy of appeasement differ from the 

peace sought by disarmament advocates, particularly after 

the development of the atomic bomb? 

COUSINS: Would you mind repeating the question? 


BASIAGO: How did his policy of appeasement differ from the 
peace sought by disarmament advocates following the 
development of the atomic bomb? Did it constantly force 
you to forge a bilateral vision of disarmament? 
COUSINS: I don't think that the two situations were 
analogous. In one case, you were dealing with certain 
basic dynamics and forces in motion that, as had been 
demonstrated, could not be arrested by sweet nothings, 
whether the Oxford Oath or Chamberlain's "peace in our 
time." With the atomic situation, you're in a totally 
different situation, which is the fact that history had 
come around to the point where it was no longer possible to 
use force as a way of protecting yourself against force. 
Therefore, at a very early stage, before antagonisms 
deepened and hardened, it was necessary to anticipate the 
implications of this new fact that you had to try to find 
some way other than force to deal with the need to protect 
oneself against aggression, protect and preserve your 
freedoms. That way it seemed clear to me was through world 
organization. Then the guest ion was what kind of world 
organization and how do you go about creating it. So the 
situations were not analogous. In one case you were 
turning away from reality, and in the second case you were 
actually trying to understand a new reality. 
BASIAGO: Now, of course. Secretary of War [Henry L.] 


Stimson had led the Manhattan Project at the highest 
levels, and it was essentially his request to Granville 
Clark in 1944 to go home and create a vision of a world 
with no more war that really spawned the movement toward 
world organization. Was this a natural progression by a 
group of idealistic people from attacking the greatest 
embodiment of evil in their time--first Hitler and Nazi 
aggression, then the bomb as a physical embodiment of 

COUSINS: When one thinks of the term "political realities" 
and its opposite, one naturally thinks of pacifism as 
counterposed to political realism. Some of that, I think, 
was probably implicit in your question earlier about 
whether the "peace in our time" approach, which was 
fallacious, was not also apparent in the thinking of those 
who wanted to control nuclear force. I bring this up 
because Grenville Clark was no pacifist. I'm not sure that 
he would even qualify as an idealist. You have to recall 
that he was the author of the Plattsburg Amendment, which 
may well have saved the life of the United States by giving 
us a certain measure of preparedness. So that when he 
thought about the situation as it then existed, it was not 
from the vantage point of someone who all his life had 
opposed the use of force in national defense, but quite the 
contrary- -someone who had actually sought to mobilize that 


force in time to prevent an attack. He recognized the 
implications of force in the modern world and was forced 
himself to think in terms of workable alternatives to that 
force. So as a political realist, he was trying to create 
a new architecture for peace to protect the United 

BASIAGO: I know that he had also led a group of private 
citizens in developing the Selective Service Act, and there 
is a second instance I would imagine where he was 
encouraging American preparedness. Did Stimson or anyone 
else high in the government have any interest in fostering 
a civilian extension of U.S. policy? 

COUSINS: Yes. Justice Roberts, Owen [J.] Roberts of the 
Supreme Court, a Republican, perhaps more conservative-- 
judging by his record--than Clark, had strong feelings 
about the connection between peace and law and also the 
need for a structure which would make law possible. Like 
Clark, he was a student of history. He was thinking in 
terms of historical principle in trying to gain acceptance 
for the fact that the world now had to be governed, and 
this was the great challenge of our time. The government 
should take a certain form, because the drift would be 
inevitably towards world control, since the same reasons 
that created the need for a governed world would also 
create the opportunity for a monolithic world under 


totalitarian control. He was looking ahead and saw the 
alternatives . 

BASIAGO: Did any of these leaders express a fear that 
following the development of the bomb there would be a 
possibility that the United States would be put in an 
untenable position in the sense that a very informed 
citizenry such as the United States ' s would perhaps desire 
a movement toward unilateral disarmament? Was there any 
fear among this original group that the movement toward the 
control of the bomb should be marshalled by people who were 
very well connected to the original effort to create the 
bomb? I find an interesting connection in Stimson. Here 
was a person who had marshalled the effort to design the 
bomb, realized its danger, and then-- 

COUSINS: Stimson was a very interesting blend. [Franklin 
D.] Roosevelt was wise in selecting him for the cabinet, 
because he was able to bring along a large segment of 
independent Republican thought, and Stimson 's presence in 
the cabinet provided a great deal of strength for Roosevelt 
in dealing with the rising problem of Hitlerism. Stimson, 
like Clark, was a reasonable man. He had an open mind, but 
like the rest of us he was not free of error. At some 
points along the way his inability to understand the 
workings of politics may have figured in certain decisions 
or attitudes. For example, when he told [Dwight D.] 


Eisenhower that the United States had successfully exploded 
the bomb at Alamogordo [New Mexico] , he surprised 
Eisenhower by his own feelings of elation: "This great new 
force has been created." Eisenhower immediately perceived 
the implications of this and was as saddened instinctively 
as Stimson had been jubilant. Stimson could only regard 
this new development in short-term gains; Eisenhower was 
able to think through the implications. But on the whole I 
think that Stimson 's presence in the United States 
government during that period was profoundly 
constructive. I think he came into the cabinet very early 
in the war. When was it? Nineteen thirty-nine or 
'forty? I don't know when he became secretary of war. 
It's vague in my mind. But he performed a very useful 
service, by and large, and as I say was a constructive 
force during that period. 

BASIAGO: I think we're moving a little bit too far ahead 
in history, perhaps because of the momentous nature of the 
development of the bomb and your role in the aftermath. 
Let's go back. I find some very interesting personalities 
in your history who were already in the early thirties 
entertaining an internationalist vision. I'm wondering 
about Nicholas Murray Butler, the esteemed president of 
your alma mater, Columbia University, who was an ardent 
advocate of international cooperation. In reviewing his 


work The Family of Nations for the periodical that you were 
writing for at that time, you noted with some sense of 
familiarity that "Dr. Butler has been advocating a family 
of nations from the moment he became articulate as a public 
figure, and that was as far back as any one of us can 
remember." When were you first introduced to Dr. Butler's 
ideas about world order? 

COUSINS: I was introduced to Butler's ideas of world 
order, or other order in general, when I was called on the 
carpet because I was suspected of having hung some girl ' s 
panties from the window of his residence on the campus. It 
is true that girl's panties were fluttering from just 
outside his bedroom, but it is not true that I was one of 
the guilty parties. When he spoke about it, I'm not sure 
whether he recognized that there were legitimate grounds 
for humor in the situation, but he did talk about the fact 
that you have to maintain order on the campus, 
[laughter] Whether or not this was a reflection of the 
fact that he didn't want panties hung from world windows, 
or that was a reflection of his world order-- But I never 
knew Butler personally. I heard him speak two or three 
times in addition to that little lecture we received. 
BASIAGO: When he wasn't speaking to you about lingerie, 
did you take any ideas from his vision? Last week you 
mentioned that you attended a lecture during which he spoke 


about the lost years of American history. Was that the 
connection to the founding fathers? 

COUSINS: Yes, it was. I don't think that Butler's ideas 
about the need for a family of nations or law in the world 
were especially apparent to me at Columbia. He was not 
regarded highly by the student body. He seemed to the kids 
to be a little pompous, and I tended, I suppose, to be 
swept up in the general disdain for the man at the time. 
Later I came to have perhaps a higher respect for him. I 
did, however, become very fond of his successor, Grayson 
[L.] Kirk, with whom I became good friends. 
BASIAGO: What impact did Kirk have on your intellect? 
COUSINS: Well, Kirk like Butler had the same imposing 
presence and like Butler he tended to be a little 
magisterial and like Butler he had a deep sense of 
history. But he was closer to the mainstream of student 
life. His experience with students in [the University of] 
Wisconsin had, I think, given him a certain sensitivity 
that Butler didn't have to the way young people acted and 

But the man who had the greatest influence on me was 
James T. Shotwell. That was a relationship that deepened, 
and I was close to him for the rest of his life. He was a 
professor of international relations at Columbia, and he 
was a scholar of world reputation. He had studied and had 


written about the League of Nations and about problems in 
international order, had done some massive works on the 
subject in fact. Even when in later years--which is, say, 
after 1945--we differed-- He felt that world federalism 
tended to bypass existing problems and that we ought to 
work as we could to make sure that the United Nations had 
the acceptance of the United States and could function. 
[We ought] to take it as far as American public opinion was 
ready to accept it, rather than to lose it altogether 
because we were reaching out for something better. 

Shotwell was very close to Clark [M. ] Eichelberger, to 
whom I became very close too. It was interesting that even 
though the ideas of Shotwell and Eichelberger tended to be 
counterposed against the ideas of the federalists, that in 
terms of my personal relationships I was as close to 
Shotwell and Eichelberger as I was to any of the 
federalists, including Clark. 

BASIAGO: Were Shotwell and Eichelberger sharing Justice 
Roberts's view that before complete world government and 
control of nuclear weapons there should be some 
intermediary position whereby the European nations would 
try to hold onto a monopoly and then administer--? 
COUSINS: Well, Roberts's views tended to be in tension I 
thought between the two sets of views. He'd been swept 
along by the momentum of day-to-day events and rivalries. 


and yet he recognized that historically old principles had 
to be applied to new situations. So there was some 
dichotomy, perhaps, in his views. Yet he was able to make 
common cause with Grenville Clark, who I think perhaps more 
so than any other person was able to strike a proper 
balance between the need to attend to existing problems of 
the world and the need to create a long-term mechanism for 
dealing with the inevitable effects of failures of the 
current approaches to problems. 

BASIAGO: You mentioned last week that Reinhold Niebuhr 
never became an advocate of world federation. Did you have 
any discussions with Niebuhr? I know he was associated 
with Current History. I'm wondering-- 
COUSINS: Yes. Niebuhr felt that government was a 
consequence of community--I think those were his words--and 
that you didn't have the development of the world that 
could lead to the next step of government. But my reading 
of The Federalist Papers had persuaded me that community 
was not just a forerunner of order but the result of it, 
and that there were imperatives that transcended community 
as Niebuhr saw it. There was first of all the fact of the 
inability to deal with breakdown, actual and potential, and 
that some movement in the direction of an architectural 
form was the best assurance we might have that community 
could be created. Federalists thought that the community 


argument was refuted by the experience of the thirteen 
colonies, where you had contrasting conununities--cultural, 
political, social--and where the very real probability 
existed that those differences could become combustible, 
which is to say where the lack of community could destroy 
all the gains of the revolution. And so they attempted to 
create a basis for community. That was the way federalists 
saw the world picture. We had to create a basis for world 
community which didn't exist, as well as to recognize the 
consequences of the absence of community. 

BASIAGO: Niebuhr viewed man as beholden to original sin. 
Was he concerned that any world government would fall 
victim to that tendency in the individual human heart and 
inevitably lead to dictatorship? 

COUSINS: He wrote about that. Niebuhr was not just a 
political philosopher but a religious philosopher, and he 
tended to move back and forth between the two. To the 
extent that philosophy is a way of looking at questions in 
other than purely religious terms, I had the feeling that 
there was an admixture there in Niebuhr ' s thinking which, 
however challenging and interesting it might be, was not 
without flaws. 

BASIAGO: He viewed the idea that man is a victim of bad 
institutions as naive. In fact, he thought man was faulty 
and not perfectible by political systems. What gave you an 


assurance that human society, and man individually, is 
perfectible by the political architecture? 

COUSINS: I took rather a dualistic--and still do--view of 
human life, which is to say that people are neither all 
type A or type B and that circumstances help to determine 
whether we become predominantly one or the other and not 
just our own genes. I think our genes give us the 
tendency, and the setting helps to determine which becomes 
more manifest or even dominant. The view of [Thomas] 
Jefferson, which is that you don't exhaust yourself in 
speculation as to whether man is predominantly good or 
evil-- You put yourself in a position to take advantage of 
the best and protect yourself against the worst and you try 
to create those conditions which will help to bring out the 
best. After all, for every argument that man is evil, you 
can find an argument that man is good. The debate as to 
which is predominant is really a fruitless debate. The 
thing that we do, therefore, is realize that since we have 
the capacity to be both, we also have to ask how we protect 
ourselves against the negative capacity and how we take 
advantage of the positive one. 

BASIAGO: Sounds like you were being influenced by a 
nurture-over-nature view of human psychology. Were you 
reading any of the postwar writings? 
COUSINS: We're talking now about the period, say, 1945 to 


1950, and the readings took two forms, one historical and 
the other contemporary. On the contemporary level, there 
were a number of books that were put out at the time. One 
was The Principles of Power by Guglielmo Ferrero, in which 
he was applying to nations the same considerations that 
Jefferson was applying to the individual, and where he was 
concerned with principles of legitimacy in government. He 
had made a very extensive study of what is and what is not 
legitimate in the way governments are created and also in 
government policy. That was a rather interesting work. 
You also had [Gaetano] Salvemini ' s book on power [March of 
Fascisin] , Bertrand Russell's book on power [Power: A New 
Social Analysis], Stuart Chase's book dealing with the 
theme of power [Roads To Agreement; Successful Methods in 
the Science of Human Relations], Borgese's work, I think 
called Goliath: The March of Fascism-- I think we spoke 
about that last week. There's a great deal of intellectual 
and philosophical ferment at the time, much of it I think 
touched off by the new change that had come about in the 
world, which made it necessary for people to reexamine old 
assumptions . 

BASIAGO: In his book Power, Russell noted that present 
political systems worked against the best sorts of people 
finding their way into government. Socially and 
culturally, was the world federalist movement an attempt to 


right that? You apparently have great respect for the 
people you were then associated with like Clark. 
COUSINS: That would have been its effect, but that was not 
its motivation. Our motivation was purely to try at that 
stage, since we're looking ahead, to avoid the consequences 
of an atomic arms race and the drift of the world towards 
anarchy. That was the primary motivation- -not to get good 
people in the government. Although that, I think, would 
have been an effect, certainly a desirable one. 
BASIAGO: Clark, of course, was a son of great privilege 
and of optimum physical security because of his family's 
wealth. Was that shared by others associated with you at 
that time? 

COUSINS: We had some people who were not impoverished. 
James [P.] Warburg was one of them. Thomas [K.] Finletter 
was another. Frank Altschul at least in an early stage of 
the federalist movement, was yet another. He was very 
strong at one point. Then you had some people in Boston, 
the Cabots. All of which, I suppose, gave rise to the 
notion that it was a fairly aristocratic, elite, and 
somewhat privileged group. But there were enough of the 
poor folks, including myself, to more than counterbalance 
that trend. 

BASIAGO: I was wondering whether they fit Jefferson's 
paradigm of the natural aristocracy of virtue and talent 


versus wealth and privilege? Or in some cases was it 


COUSINS: I think that at some of our meetings you could 

look around the room and think that Jefferson might have 

felt very much at home. 

BASIAGO: Let's explore some of the other individuals you 

met at Current History. Apparently it was during this time 

that you met Wendell [L.] Willkie. How did you meet 


COUSINS: I met him at the Century Club in New York. This 

was after he had returned from his world tour, out of which 

came the book One World. I think that that book was 

probably published in 1945. I don't know, somewhere around 

then. When was it published? Do you have a date on that? 

BASIAGO: ' Forty- three. 

COUSINS: ' Forty- three. Yes, that's right. He ran for the 


BASIAGO: Fall of 1940. 

COUSINS: Fall of 1940. That's right. He ran for the 

presidency in '40, was defeated, and then carried out this 

mission for Roosevelt on his world trip. That's right. So 

it was after he came back from his world trip that I met 

him. There was a small group at the Century Club who met 

for lunch, summoned by Beardsley Ruml , who was then 

chairman of the board of R. H. Macy and Company [Inc.] and 


who was one of those who were being swept up by the impress 
of events at the time. Ruml had been influenced by the 
atomic scientists. There was a great deal of ferment then, 
and Willkie, because of his book, was considered a natural 
asset to the movement. 

BASIAGO: So you first learned of Willkie 's views on world 
society during that first meeting there at the Century 

COUSINS: No. I first learned of his views through his 
statements about the war after his defeat for the 
presidency. He had also appeared on a program called 
"Information Please" with Clifton Fadiman as moderator. It 
was a radio program. He did very well on it, and for the 
first time intellectuals began to cotton to him. He rather 
liked that too. I may have met him once or twice shortly 
after, but the one strong memory I had was at the luncheon 
meeting called by Beardsley Ruml, one of the series of 
meetings that Ruml had sponsored. 

BASIAGO: Despite his book One World being published in 
1943, I've had trouble finding any connection between him 
and let's say Clark and the people who carried on the 
movement into the Cold War period. Apparently there wasn't 
one or--? 
COUSINS: Not that I know of. 


JANUARY 30, 1987 

BASIAGO: I'm intrigued by your association with Wendell 
[L.] Willkie, whose work One World in 1943 so typifies the 
world federalist era. Just to get some background 
information on Willkie and his influence upon you, what can 
you tell me about how well you knew him and when you met 
him and that sort of thing? 

COUSINS: Willkie was a phenomenon on the American scene at 
that particular time. He was a businessman, a utilities 
executive, but he had a great deal of flair. It was 
extremely appealing. He was a good friend of Irita Van 
Doren, then the editor of the New York Herald Tribune 
weekly book section, and she had dinners at her home to 
which he was invited. It was in this way that he met some 
of the people responsible for the program "Information 
Please." That was a highly popular radio program. It 
later became a TV program as well, but at this particular 
time it was just a talk program where questions would be 
asked of a panel. He did very well on that panel, and that 
made him something of a darling of the intellectuals in New 
York--which was a paradox because, as I say, he was a 
businessman and my knowledge of him came about in that 
fashion. I don't think that it would be accurate to say 
that he was a friend. He was an acquaintance, someone you 


met at dinner parties, Irita Van Doren ' s and Harrison 
Smith's and Amy Loveman's, but certainly not a confidant in 
any way. 

BASIAGO: It's been said that to some extent the efforts he 
made to foster world order in a sense represented his own 
enlightened self-interest as a businessman. Did you find 
any evangelical or cosmic religious dimension to his 
sponsorship of these ideas? How did you put it in 

COUSINS: It was probably true that there was some self- 
interest in that position, but that could be said of anyone 
who works in the area of world peace. It increases, or 
perhaps that person hopes to increase, his or her own 
chances of survival. But more accurately, it was a very 
genuine awareness that he had about what the world was 
like. He went on that trip with Joseph [F.] Barnes, then 
of Simon and Schuster [Inc.], and Barnes helped him write 
the book. I think he also went on that trip with Gardner 
Cowles [Jr.], "Mike" Cowles of the Cowles Publishing 
Company, which also published at that time a magazine 
called Look. It would not be accurate, I think, to say 
that his concept of one world was a desire to serve his 
business interests. At least his associates in the company 
didn't think so, quite the contrary. They probably felt 
that he was embarrassing the company by these long-haired 


interests of his. 

BASIAGO: So you're suggesting that his work was actually 
divergent from the expectations of his class or 
colleagues. A theme that's reiterated again and again in 
your own work The Good Inheritance is this idea that some 
kind of comprehensive world political order was a necessity 
from certain historical forces. How did you personally 
arrive at this position? What information led you to see 
that that was obvious and gave you such convictions so 
early on that we had to move ahead and create a viable 
world federation? 

COUSINS: Well, this is all preatomic now. We're talking 
about 1940, '41, '42. After we got into the war or as we 
were approaching the entry into the war and as the 
situation in Europe began to heat up, there was I think a 
new search for American identity. We were rediscovering 
our past. The poetry of Walt Whitman, for example, which 
at one time had been regarded as hortatory and over- 
expressionistic, now became an item in the American 
rediscovery--the poetry of patriotism. It was a higher 
patriotism. "I hear America singing," Walt Whitman wrote. 
Henry [S.] Canby, my colleague on the Saturday Review of 
Literature, about that time wrote a biography of Whitman 
[Walt Whitman, An American] . There were these stirrings of 


the American tradition and the American heritage, which I 
think we all felt because it was now being challenged. It 
was not a tub-thumping jingoism so much as it was a 
reassertion of basic American values. 

Coward-McCann, a book publisher, wanting to publish 
something that would reflect or appeal to this reassertion 
of American values, asked me if I would write a primer of 
democracy. As I got into it, almost like someone doing a 
Ph.D. thesis that gets out of control, I discovered that 
the portion devoted to ancient Greece was not only dominant 
but perhaps predominant. Then, when I came to the American 
founding fathers and became aware of their own intellectual 
debt to ancient Greece, it seemed to me that we had an 
interesting juxtaposition between the failure of Greece, 
failure to federate, and the decline of Greece. It bled 
itself through the Peloponnesian Wars, and those wars were 
a reflection of the fact that the Greek states were unable 
to arrive at a political form among themselves and slid 
into this long period of wars which drained much of the 
lifeblood of Greece. Even though you had an afterglow, one 
might say--Plato, Aristotle--the fact of the matter was 
that the place of Greece as a nation had been very severely 
weakened and had passed the primary stage of world 

The men who met at Philadelphia in their study of 


history were tremendously impressed by the fact that this 
state, or this congeries of states known as Greece, despite 
all their wisdom and their great contributions, never 
realized the importance of creating a political form among 
themselves, and that failure cost Greece its life. So the 
American constitutional convention, in effect, was a 
counterpoint to the experience of the Greek states, just as 
The Federalist Papers-- [James] Madison, [Alexander] 
Hamilton, [John] Jay--were a counterpoint to Thucydides's 
HistorY of the Peloponnesian War. I became, as I say, aware 
of this juxtaposition, and it seemed to me that it had not 
been sufficiently recognized or highlighted. That was what 
The Good Inheritance: [The Democratic Chance] was about. 
Now, that still left undone perhaps a large part of 
the assignment given to me when I was asked to do a primer 
of democracy. So it seemed to me that what I ought to do 
was to bring together not just the main historical 
documents concerned with the development of the democratic 
form of government, but in an attempt to give it a very 
contemporary flavor to seek the credos of prominent living 
Americans on the subject. That was the second part of the 
book, and the book appeared under the title A Treasury of 
Democracy. So these two books were companion volumes. 
They came out, I think, at the same time and constituted, I 
hope, an attempt to meet the original assignment given me. 


even though the form was somewhat different from what had 
been contemplated by the publishers. 

BASIAGO: When we last spoke, you mentioned the important 
role that M. E. [Merle E.] Tracy played in your develop- 
ment, and you've just described again how in a sense you 
were communing with the great minds of antiquity during 
this period. I'm wondering how this educational process 
took place in a day-to-day sense. For instance, in 
Suetonius we find this vivid picture of Roman society and 
the emphasis upon the moral and political decadence of its 
leaders. Was it commonplace at the offices of Current 
History to be making active connections, let's say, between 
current political leaders and comparisons in ancient 

COUSINS: It may not have been commonplace, but it was not 
unusual. We had an environment of classical scholarship at 
the Saturday Review. Elmer [H.] Davis, who came on the 
editorial board at the time that I did, was a Greek scholar 
and also a Roman scholar. 

BASIAGO: In fact, wasn't he a Rhodes scholar? 
COUSINS: Yes. He once gave a lecture in Latin at the New 
York Public Library. He was identified mainly as a news 
commentator, but he was a classical scholar as well. He 
would talk not just about Thucydides or Suetonius ' s Lives 
of the Twelve Caesars or about Plutarch or about Seneca or 


about [Edward] Gibbon, but he had a deep sense of that 
history. One of our principal contributors, Leonard Bacon, 
the poet, was an enthusiast of Polybius, and so we would 
have these discussions as to the impact of the Macedonian 
experience contrasted with the Athenian experience. It was 
not a showy thing. It was rather-- Not entirely casual 
either, I suppose, but it was not unusual, and it was used 
more for the purpose of illustrating a point than for the 
purpose of demonstrating scholarship. It was a time when 
historical allusion was not only commonplace but was rather 
expected. In our discussions the allusions were very 
pertinent, and it was an educational arena in that sense. 
BASIAGO: You mentioned Elmer Davis, Leonard Bacon. Could 
we include Carl Van Doren in this circle? He'd just 
published a biography of Franklin [Benjamin Franklin] . 
COUSINS: Yes, he did his biography of Franklin, and later 
as one of the small group that we had who were discussing 
the relevance of federalist ideas to the world situation, 
he also wrote The Great Rehearsal. He was inspired by the 
experience of the American founding fathers. That was why 
he called the book The Great Rehearsal, which is that he 
felt that this experience was in effect a rehearsal for a 
much larger approach to the ideas that had to go into a 
design for human survival. 
BASIAGO: I'd like to get more material on your experiences 


at Current History before you actually went next door to 

the Saturday Review. In particular, I'd like to get 

information regarding any forays you might have made into 

actual political reporting. I've really found only two 

references that I could identify as attempts you might have 

made to move into the mainstream of political reporting. 

COUSINS: You surely do your homework. 

BASIAGO: There's one reference in Human Options: [An 

Autobiographical Notebook] to the first time you saw 

Franklin [D.] Roosevelt [FDR]. 


BASIAGO: This was in October of 1937. 

COUSINS: That's right. 

BASIAGO: You describe how you moved around the great 

circle of reporters at a conference and got a vision of a 

rather physically remarkable human being. 

COUSINS: That's right. 

BASIAGO: Where were you? How did that come about? What 

was he talking about? 

COUSINS: I was education writer at the time for the New 

York Evening Post. In reading some of the reports of the 

Federal Trade Commission [FTC], I saw some references to 

the attempts of the utilities industry to influence 

American education. They hired textbook writers, prepared 


new texts. It seemed to me this was worth digging into. I 
persuaded the city editor, Walter Lister, to let me go to 
Washington. At the Federal Trade Commission, I was able to 
examine all the documents. And I was amazed that this 
hadn't been done by the newspapers before this- -showing the 
attempt of the utilities to use the schools as an integral 
part of their propaganda efforts. The head of the Federal 
Trade Commission escorted me to the presidential press 
conference, and that was when I had a chance to see FDR in 

BASIAGO: You've described him as "tanned, robust, and 
electric with life." 

BASIAGO: And you thought you'd never seen a healthier- 
looking human being. 
COUSINS: That's right. 

BASIAGO: Now, that was written many decades later. Were 
you suggesting that this was actually an individual who 
looked larger than life? 

COUSINS: Good way of putting it. He was very much at home 
behind the president's desk. I saw nothing unnatural about 
that scene. This was the way a president ought to look-- 
not only look but act. When he spoke, it was on the basis 
of a very accurate understanding of what the question was 
and he had a knowledgeable answer. He didn't need cue 


cards and he didn't need people standing behind him to 
prompt him with a correct answer. If he didn't know 
anything, he would say so; but I don't recall that he had 
to say that he would "look into it" more than once or 
twice. For the most part he was precise with his replies 
and very cogent. The reporters didn't feel that they were 
being handed synthetic materials. They knew that they 
could take what the president said at face value. 
BASIAGO: You mentioned you were there in this research for 
this article regarding propaganda attempts by the 
utilities. During the same period, actually a few months 
later in February 1938, you wrote an article entitled "Food 
for the Trust Busters" in which you attacked monopoly in 
the dairy, meat, and bread markets. Sounds like another 
FTC connection. 
COUSINS: That's right. 

BASIAGO: That article, the second one, was based on an 
unpublished FTC report. That adjective "unpublished" kind 
of fascinates me. Where was the connection there? How did 
you get into the FTC's operations? 

COUSINS: Well, as I indicated, I met some of the people in 
the FTC. I think the word "unpublicized" would have been 
more accurate than "unpublished," even though it wasn't 
published by a commercial firm. It did exist, but it 
hadn't been picked up any more than the utilities material 


had been publicized. When I learned of the existence of 
this, my friends at the FTC supplied me with the 
materials. I had sort of forgotten about that. 
BASIAGO: This circle of intellectuals concerned with the 
lessons of antiquity, if you will-- Elmer Davis later 
became, I guess, head of the Office of War Information. 
I'm wondering to what extent this group had active New Deal 
connections. For instance, Rexford Guy Tugwell, one of the 
brain trusters, was an infrequent contributor to Current 
History. Were there any other connections that--? 
COUSINS: So was Raymond Moley. It was not unnatural that 
these people who were called upon by FDR would be prominent 
in the university world. FDR had a profound respect for 
the university world, and I think that Sam [Samuel I.] 
Rosenman helped introduce him to a number of those 
persons. I'm not sure of this, but I believe that Rosenman 
was responsible for the fact that Bob [Robert E.] Sherwood 
also became a confidant of the president. Sherwood was a 
playwright, Abe Lincoln in Illinois--a Pulitzer Prize 
winner. He was also very close to the Saturday Review. He 
was a close friend of John Mason Brown's, for example. 
Sherwood later did the book Roosevelt and Hopkins, a study 
of many aspects of the Roosevelt years. Then John Mason 
Brown, who was our drama critic and a very close friend of 
Sherwood's, later wrote the biography of Sherwood and died 


before that book could be completed. I was asked, as you 
probably know, to finish it and ready it for publication. 
BASIAGO: Now, this is interpretative on my part, but I 
find that The Good Inheritance ultimately comes to be quite 
a defense of some of the social experimentation that FDR 
was carrying on. Would that be a fair characterization? 
As an example, you describe Athens before Solon as facing 
some of the problems that FDR faced, widespread dislocation 
of the work force, an increasing debtor class, and a 
growing discrepancy between rich and poor. And there seem 
to be a few initiatives that FDR undertook that in fact 
Solon also undertook thousands of years earlier. For 
instance, I guess FDR's closing of the banks had a parallel 
in antiquity. Was that on your mind? 

COUSINS: I was not unaware of the resemblances, but what 
was most striking to me was the parallel between the 
attempt of the Greek states to federate ending in failure 
and the consequent war. That on one side of the parallel, 
and on the other the world situation at that particular 
time with all the nations who were a part of a geographic 
unit in the same sense that the Greek states were part of a 
geographic unit. As Hamilton said, whenever you have a 
geographic unit the choice generally is unite or fight. 
And if we were to fight it's important to take into account 
the weapons that that would be fought with. So we had no 


choice it seemed to me except to try to find a basis for 

uniting that would enable each country to maintain its own 

traditions and its culture and its values, but at the same 

time yielding to a common authority with respect to common 

dangers and common needs. Such at least was the reading 

that I had from the Greek experience. 

BASIAGO: When we last spoke you also discussed M. E. 

Tracy. I can't find many references to Merle Elliott Tracy 

beyond a work entitled Our Country, Their Country- - 

COUSINS: Our Country, Our- People and Theirs. 

BASIAGO: Exactly. I'm fascinated by this particular 

project. You seem to have come together with another 

circle of individuals who were helping Tracy. 

COUSINS: But on that book, have you seen the book? 

BASIAGO: Yes, and I've read the introductions to each of 

the quantitative sections, but not all the statistical 

material . 

COUSINS: What he did was to study various aspects-- 

history, politics, economy, culture, and so forth. I did 

one of the sections for him on American culture. It's an 

interesting undertaking. 

BASIAGO: That was your primary contribution in that group 

to that work? 


BASIAGO: You mentioned what a remarkable individual M. E. 


Tracy was, a blind individual with this remarkable grasp of 
history and antiquity. What are some more of the facts of 
his life? I've been unable to find anything. 
COUSINS: He grew up in Maine, went to the Perkins 
Institute for the Blind, became a newspaperman. Went to 
Texas, where he was one of the editors of I think the 
Houston Chronicle. [He] became a columnist for the 
Chronicle, in fact, and then one of the earliest of the 
syndicated columnists--the title of the columns being "M. 
E. Tracy Says, " I believe. He was syndicated by Scripps- 
Howard [News Service] , along with Heywood Broun and 
Westbrook Pegler. [He] came north and learned that the New 
York Times magazine Current History was available and 
acquired it. I met him through one of the reporters on the 
Post who was his neighbor. When he wanted a staff for 
Current History, the two of us, Leonard M. Leonard and I, 
left the Post to join Tracy. 

BASIAGO: My search, as I mentioned, brought up that one 
text in 1938, which essentially was a comparison of the 
superstates- -the United States, Italy, Germany, and 
Russia. Were there any longer projects in Tracy's 
curriculum vitae? 

BASIAGO: Do you find it curious that most of his 
distilling of history was in terms of inspiring or 


educating younger individuals? That he never developed a 
larger corpus of historical writings beyond journalism and 
that sort of thing? 

COUSINS: I never thought of it in that sense. He was a 
very thoughtful man and knew how to read, largely because 
it didn't come to him very easily. Though he was not showy 
in his knowledge, he had a very wide historical 
knowledge. I thought of him obviously at the time as being 
very old, but he was then in his fifties, I believe, his 
late fifties. So that the period in a person's life where 
you harvest your ideas, he was just about entering. I 
think he died about the age of sixty-four. Was that right? 
BASIAGO: I think around there, yes. I just find it 
remarkable that with someone with such comprehension that 
we don't find a magnum opus. Who were some of the other 
young individuals who might have been inspired by this 
circle of individuals? I find it curious that your 
contemporaries I. F. Stone and Vance Packard were at least 
contributing to Current History. Did you know them? 

BASIAGO: Were they in that same circle of students? 
COUSINS: I. F. Stone was then Izzy Feinstein, who was an 
editorial writer for the same paper that I worked on. We 
were on the Post together. As I look back I realize that 
he's my contemporary, but at that particular time I was a 


cub reporter and he was a chief editorial writer about ten 
years older than I, I guess, ten or fifteen. It was only 
in later years after the Post that I got to know Izzy Stone 
pretty well. He wrote for us, both for Current History and 
the Saturday Review, and I found him very enjoyable, apart 
from being very stimulating. 

BASIAGO: Another curious or fascinating thing I find in my 
review of your entry into journalism is a tendency to want 
to do articles about medical themes. For instance, the May 
1938 issue of Current History contains your review of Paul 
[H.] de Kruif's The Fight for Life, a polemic about the 
conflict between commerce and mercy in the medical field. 
You also reported about Harry [G.] and Rebecca [Janney] 
Timbres, who had gone to Russia to fight disease. Is there 
anything in your background that made you particularly 
interested in man's fight against illness? 

COUSINS: I think I had spoken about having been sent to a 
tuberculosis sanatorium at the age of ten. They do a lot 
of growing up rather fast under those circumstances. At 
that time TB therapy was largely a matter of dry, cold air, 
and there was a TB sanatorium in New Jersey which in a flat 
state was considered at a pretty high altitude. I doubt 
that it was more than two or three thousand feet, if 
that. In any event, I was sent to the sanatorium, largely 
on the basis of a lung X ray. At that time they didn't 


quite realize that young children in their X rays show 
calcification and that the exposure to TB was rather 
general without meaning that it was active. So I was sent 
to this place where I was exposed, of course, to TB, since 
mainly the people there did have active TB. I suppose one 
of the reasons I was sent there was that I was very frail 
as a kid, and they were rather worried about me. At the 
time that I was sent to this sanatorium, TB sanatorium, I 
think I weighed fifty-eight pounds. And the exposure to 
that particular experience where you had to think about 
life in a rather basic way-- Not all the kids who were 
there survived the experience or survived their TB. So I 
was not without some residual philosophy, perhaps, of 
health as I developed. 

BASIAGO: It would not be until 1979 when Anatomy of an 
Illness [as Perceived by the Patient: Reflections on 
Regeneration and Healing] would emerge. In your earliest 
years in journalism is it accurate to describe this as a 
particular cause or fascination that you sought to write 

COUSINS: Yes, yes. 

BASIAGO: Were there other articles that I haven't found 
perhaps in medicine that you worked on at the time? 
COUSINS: I don't recall. 
BASIAGO: I'd like to get a greater understanding of this 


work Our Country, Our People and Theirs. It is in a sense 
a statistical abstract, a compilation of economic and 
natural resource trends among the superstates. Was 
anything learned by this team that suggested where, let's 
say, the war would go based on natural resource 

COUSINS: The context in which that book was developed and 
published was the same as the context in which The Good 
Inheritance was written. First, a challenge which was not 
theoretical but a real challenge to existence, a real 
question of whether the United States could stand apart 
from what was happening to the other countries of Europe, 
which were going under. Democracy was then in retreat. 
Our Country, Our People and Theirs was an attempt to 
examine these different systems to see exactly what the 
record was with respect to the ability of those systems to 
meet the needs of people. I think the book did a rather 
good job. 

BASIAGO: I was impressed by its comprehensivity--twenty 
major topics. I was just wondering if along the way this 
team discovered that America had a tremendous advantage, 
that beyond or in spite of its intellectual heritage that 
perhaps there were natural resource advantages that it 
might have had, that sort of thing. 
COUSINS: Yes, we did have great resources, but it would be 


a mistake to think of resources in terms of what you get 
out of the ground. I think Tracy was equally interested in 
the resources of the human mind. 

BASIAGO: The work seems to have covered both- -both the 
potential in timber and coal and also in political systems 
and ideas of justice and that sort of thing. 
COUSINS: That's right. 

BASIAGO: Polybius tried to identify 220 BC as a time when 
things really started to get dangerous, where the tendency 
in human geography toward coming together of society- - 
inward forces--really had to be addressed, and in fact the 
Athenians failed to address it. Was there a moment in 
modern civilization that you and Tracy and others were 
looking back to as a focal point where in our time 
inevitable forces tended to be coming together? Was it 

COUSINS: That pivotal period came later I think. In terms 
of what makes for a genuine turning point of history, I 
think that it was not the war or the events leading to the 
war, whether World War I or World War II, but the event 
that marked the end of the war, the Second World War, that 
represented a great turning point. As a matter of fact, it 
was almost a dividing point between preatomic history and 
the atomic age, perhaps just these two ages of humans. 
That was when the big turning point came. 


The intellectual ferment that produced occurred on 
different levels. When you talk about intellectuals coming 
together, I think of the group that was called the Writers 
War Board that supplied the government during the war with 
effective materials that could be used at home and 
abroad. But in the way the war ended, the people who were 
part of that group recognized that we had now an even 
larger threat which applied to the human race as a whole. 
So instead of the Writers War Board, it metamorphosed into 
the Writers Board for World Government. 


JANUARY 30, 1987 

BASIAGO: You stated that 1945 was the point of departure 
where there was a certain degree of inevitability to what 
human society was confronted with in terms of its political 
arrangements. Of course, Polybius noted in 220 B.C. that 
suddenly the affairs of Italy and Africa were interlinked 
with those of Greece and Asia. What I find in reading your 
preatomic work is that you were already concerned with 
certain themes that frequently we associate with being 
postatomic--a concern that industry and technology were 
actually fueling the forces of disintegration. What might 
have been some of the contributing factors to these ideas? 
COUSINS: The Good Inheritance was written in 1940 and '41, 
I believe. It was probably published early in 1942, 
somewhere around then. It was at that time that the notion 
of what was happening to the world seemed to take shape in 
my mind. So the advocacy of world federalism didn't await 
the atomic explosion. What the atomic explosion did was to 
provide explosive verification, so that these groups which 
had been meeting, conscious of the need for world 
organization even before the atomic bomb, groups such as 
Americans United for World Organization or the Writers 
Board, which was thinking in terms of the need for a world 
organization in which the United States would participate-- 


Such groups, now confronted with the atomic bomb, 
recognized that we weren't talking about a long-term 
problem but something that had a great deal of immediacy 
connected to it. Our failure at that time to educate the 
American people about the need for effective world 
organization would radiate out--as indeed it has since--in 
monstrous failures, with an arms race and all the 
consequences of that, world tensions and the buildup for 
the most catastrophic war the world had ever known. 
BASIAGO: This might seem like an unusual question: To 
some degree it seems intuitional on your part. Is that a 
fair characterization? In other words, as an individual, 
have you been known for in a sense anticipating things, or 
was this mostly from the study of things that had already 
passed? I just find it remarkable that you were in touch 
with conditions that really only seemed to be validated by 
the atomic bomb, because most of the things that could be 
said about national interest really had to change after-- 
COUSINS: I think it natural perhaps that writers should be 
concerned with the unseen effects of existing problems. 
The basic function of the writer, it seems to me, is to try 
to give people a sense in time of the connection between 
cause and effect. That's all education is, an attempt to 
understand that particular connection and not to wait for 
causes to produce their effects before dealing with them. 


The causes, even without respect to the atomic bomb, were 
certainly in evidence even before World War II, but 
certainly during the war and most certainly as the result 
of it. 

BASIAGO: I was wondering if in August of 1945, despite all 
the obvious global shock of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, whether 
you felt to some extent that your themes had been 
validated--that they were experimental when they emerged 
and proof positive in August of '45. 

COUSINS: One might say that what happened represented an 
escalation in degree, but I think that the atomic bomb also 
represented a difference in kind as well as in degree, 
because it now affected the time factor as well. It gave 
us only a limited amount of time in which to prevent things 
from being set in motion, and thus there was a great 
urgency. All the issues now being discussed even with 
respect to Star Wars, for example, were being considered at 
that time a prospect as an inevitable consequence of what 
had been started. 

BASIAGO: One theme that seems to emerge in The Good 
Inheritance is that the dichotomy between the Athenian and 
Spartan vision of human society might have contained 
somewhat of a racial/geographic component. That is, 
there's a reference to Sparta carrying on a sort of Nordic 
tradition and Athens a Mediterranean tradition. Can you 


elaborate on that? 

COUSINS: Yes, I found it rather striking--niade all the 
more so because of what was happening in the world at the 
time with Adolf Hitler and the march of totalitarianism, or 
what [Gaetano] Salvemini called "the march of fascism. " 
Here you had between Athens and Sparta an interesting 
analogy historically. Athens, perhaps the most cultural of 
the Greek states; Sparta, a state that had come to have a 
militaristic tradition. But what to me was extremely 
interesting, most interesting of all about that 
juxtaposition between the two, was that Sparta had not 
always been militaristic. It became militaristic for 
geopolitical reasons. Here we begin to see the interaction 
between a nation's geographical position and its political 
institutions. Being a land state, not having access to the 
sea, Sparta had to protect itself against its neighbors, 
and so it had a military on-site presence. Athens could 
have its navy, you see, and it didn't affect to the same 
extent the domestic institutions, but Sparta increasingly 
became a garrison state. At one time it was the most 
cultural perhaps of all the Greek states in poetry and art 
and music. But with the passing of years and the 
conscription of youth and the omnipresence of the military, 
the institutions slowly began to change. Finally we had 
what is known as the Spartan example in history or the 


predominantly military influence in a state, as well as 
certain Spartan habits which they had to develop just 
because the military requirements were so stern. The 
trouble with having such a large standing army, as I 
suggested in the book, was that the standing army doesn't 
always stand--at some point it begins to march. So we 
could see the way political problems would actually change 
the dominant character of a society. Athens, on the other 
hand, which was a maritime state, was able not just to have 
the military presence offshore predominantly, but was able 
to engage an exchange of goods and ideas. The access to 
the seas provided for a certain ventilation--cultural 
ventilation and ventilation of ideas. 
BASIAGO: You mention at the beginning of The Good 
Inheritance that in terms of time not many human lifetimes 
have passed since that age. You've mentioned today the way 
in which Spartan culture seemed to reach a peak magnitude 
of cultural development and then devolved. And we've 
discussed how that might have paralleled, or foreshadowed 
rather, Germany. Was there any potential--or did you 
discover anything--that this was in fact an organic 
trend? That there was a heritage of two power blocs within 
Western civilization whose struggle was still being played 
out on the world stage? Was this parallel or continuity? 
COUSINS: I tend to believe that history is a little more 


plastic than that in that while you have underlying forces 
that tend to foster certain developments, you have a 
certain margin for human interpretation and action that can 
become quite profound, as in the case of Adolf Hitler. One 
might say that Hitler was a product of Versailles, and 
certainly that is true. But a lot of Germans were the 
product of Versailles as well, and yet there was only one 
Hitler. He was able because of Germany's situation to 
attract support in Germany, but the fact of the matter is 
that he represented a certain phenomenon. I am not 
convinced that if there were no person named Adolf Hitler 
there would be another person who would do the same thing 
in the same way or have the same impact. You had a 
situation that was deeply pathological: Hitler was 
insane. I don't think that there's any psychiatric 
standard that would admit a different conclusion from 
that. So you had to allow for the impress of human 
personality on history, even though history within broad 
margins is affected by the broad current of events, 

BASIAGO: You mentioned what a short period has passed 
since the fall of Athens. During these years or in the 
years hence, did you learn of any continuity in actual real 
power in families or institutions? 
COUSINS: Could you rephrase that question? 


BASIAGO: Well, you mentioned how history is plastic and 
that this work represented an attempt at historical 
parallel, but then I add in the time factor and I realize 
that quite possibly these two interpretations of where 
Western civilization should go might have been carried on 
in a real way. 

COUSINS: I see. The essential question, I suppose, is the 
role of determinism in history. It is manifestly true that 
no event is without its effects and that what happens today 
is an inevitable consequence of everything that has 
happened before. What I try to suggest is that even 
allowing for that, there are strange twists and turnings 
that history can take because of unpredictable 
circumstances, one of them being the impress of certain 
personalities on history. So history is really a 
combination of the two, which is determinism and free 
will. I think we spoke once about one aspect of this, and 
this had to do with the discussions with [Jawaharlal] 
Nehru, who said that he had often thought about the place 
of determinism as well as the importance of free will and 
which was the more important in history. Most of the 
people who discussed this were advocates of the 
deterministic theory or the free will theory. He didn't 
regard himself as an advocate but as an observer, someone 
who noted that history, like life, is similar to a game of 


cards. He said, "The hand that is dealt you is 
determinism. You can't change it. That's it. But the way 
you play it is free will." So there's always this 
relationship between the two in varying degrees. Some 
people play a hand better than others; some people are 
dealt hands that can't be changed. So you get varying 
degrees between the two, but both are involved, 

I think the same thing was true of Germany and 
Hitlerism. The hand that had been dealt Germany was 
represented by the aftereffects of World War I, but it's a 
mistake to blame Versailles for Hitler. What about the war 
that produced Versailles? What about the policies of the 
kaisers in Germany? That produced the defeat; the defeat 
produced Versailles. It would have been a mistake to 
suppose that a war like that would not have produced a 
psychology of victor and vanquished. It always does. 
Certainly Hitler in conquering countries ran counter to 
what he said about Versailles. He was far less generous 
with the nations he defeated than the Allies were with 
Germany , 


FEBRUARY 17, 1987 

BASIAGO: Another individual that I have a suspicion you 
worked with and were influenced by is John Dewey. He joined 
Henry [S.] Canby, Amy Loveman, and M. E. [Merle E.] Tracy on 
the Current History literary advisory board, which selected 
typically the ten outstanding nonfiction works in the late 
thirties. What was your involvement with John Dewey? 
COUSINS: I had a great admiration for Dewey. In terms of 
his educational and political philosophy, it seemed to me 
that he represented ideological integrity. He didn't allow 
himself to be pushed around by the far left wing of the 
liberal movement, even though at the time they had a 
powerful voice in lef t-of-center politics and a great many 
liberal intellectuals almost as a badge of intelligence 
either identified themselves with or did not oppose those 
dictates. Dewey was one of the first independent liberal 
voices of the time. He was accused of being a Trotskyite 
because of the Trotsky trial in Mexico that you're familiar 
with. He was probably preeminent in American education, 
certainly in the philosophical approach to education. It 
was my good fortune to get to know him at Teachers College 
[Columbia University] . He would invite me up to his home 
for dinner, as he would other students. Very 
straightforward, very open. 


When I went to Current History, I found him a very 
valuable resource. The selection jury for the book awards 
was a very good cross section of intellectual aristocracy 
in America. It was beautifully balanced too. Dewey was 
very supportive, regarding me as a former student, even 
though by the time I got there he had long since retired. 
But he did give occasional lectures that I came to, and he 
did invite me to his apartment on--it may have been 
Claremont Drive, I'm not sure--near Columbia. He had a 
relatively young wife at the time--a very discerning, 
intelligent, gracious lady--whom I admired too. I always 
regarded him, if not as a mentor, at least as someone who 
had an important part in my philosophical and intellectual 
development . 

BASIAGO: I understand that he had adopted an Italian child 
when he lost his own son. Following your involvement with 
the Hiroshima Maidens you would go on to adopt an 
individual. Was there a--? 
COUSINS: No connection. 

BASIAGO: Were you opened up to the intimate aspects of his 
life-style in the sense of--? 

BASIAGO: So when he was entertaining students it was in a 
rather formal academic sense? 
COUSINS: Informal academic. 


BASIAGO: Was he challenging you or--? 
COUSINS: We'd sit around cross-legged, and he would 
generally respond to things that we would bring up. At the 
time our minds were more on politics than on the philosophy 
of education. It was comforting to know that it was 
possible to be radical without being communist. From the 
very start I found myself with that orientation, and at 
times it was a very lonely position. You kept being tagged 
as an anticommunist . I was anticommunist, but the term 
itself had other overtones. It meant that, as used then, 
that you were dominated by hate of the Soviet Union and 
that you didn't know the difference between a communist and 
a liberal, which in my case of course I thought was absurd. 

This is a fight that spilled over to the [American] 
Newspaper Guild. I was a member of the guild since I'd 
been on the [New York Evening] Post. The people in the 
guild, some of the people in the guild, didn't hesitate to 
throw labels around to castigate you. While they 
themselves resented being called red or communist, there 
was a tendency to use the same tactics against those who 
disagreed with them. So you became a red-baiter if you 
didn't agree. It was not an easy field to find your way 
through. It was filled with mines, and you didn't want to 
be associated with those whose politics were shaped largely 
by communist-hating. And yet on the other hand, you 


certainly didn't want to be associated with those you 
couldn't support either because they were uncritical of 
anything the Soviet Union did and totally critical of 
anything the United States did. And it was not a very 
robust movement, if indeed it was a movement at all, trying 
to be free of both. The Spanish civil war helped sharpen 
those lines. You've got to be one thing or the other, that 
sort of approach. 

That was why I suppose I liked men like John Dewey and 
George [S.] Counts and Professor [William H.] Kilpatrick at 
Columbia, whose anticommunism was based on a belief in 
human freedom but not on red-baiting and not on trying to 
create a public opinion that would be hostile to relations 
between the two countries. [Franklin D. ] Roosevelt had a 
very good balance, I thought. There's a lot about John 
Dewey's philosophy that I didn't understand. I found some 
of his essays and books, if not impenetrable, at least 
rather dense. But the man himself was not. He was quite 
the opposite of his writing. He was explicit in speech, 
very responsive, listened well, and was not given to 
talking in long paragraphs. He spoke in sentences. 
BASIAGO: In analyzing the Cold War, people have pointed to 
our educational system for fostering an either-or attitude 
in relationship to the Soviet Union and to other nations 
that are perceived to be our enemy. Dewey had been 


involved in the "outlawry of war" movement which helped 
bring about the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928. What 
connection was he making between the American school system 
and the mind-set of which you spoke? 
COUSINS: I don't know. 

BASIAGO: I'm trying to ascertain where his pacifism and 
educational ideas met. 

COUSINS: While Dewey had a deep and perhaps overriding 
interest in the politics of the times, especially with 
respect to basic issues involving freedom, his attempt to 
use his ideas with respect to educational systems or 
educational philosophy never really obtruded, so far as I 
know, even though he was accused of that. But I don't 
recall, at least in the lectures that I heard, that he was 
attempting to create the kind of amalgam between the two 
that would say to people, "If you believe in what I'm 
saying in education, believe in what I'm saying in 
politics." I don't think that that was his style. 
BASIAGO: Another individual that we touched very briefly 
on was James T. Shotwell, who had been active with 
[Woodrow] Wilson in 1917, as a delegate to Versailles. 
COUSINS: Yes. Shotwell was rather important in my life. 
He had his office at Columbia and students would come to 
see him there. After the bomb was dropped, I felt that we 
were at a rather critical period, that a mold was then 


being cast that would be very difficult later to change, 
especially with respect to the start-up of the arms race. 
I thought that was the time to stop it. I had world 
government ideas--ideas of world government that came out 
of my commitment to the American experience. Shotwell and 
Clark [M.] Eichelberger represented to my mind the 
gradualist approach with respect to the UN [United Nations] 
and world federation. 

It's so interesting that both these men who worked 
together should become very close friends, closer than any 
friends I had in the federalist movement. Perhaps it was a 
matter of style, a matter of personality. Shotwell never 
tried to discourage me from my world federalist views. In 
fact, in our direct discussions he gave me the impression 
that our only difference was with respect to timing. 
There's almost a father-son relationship with Shotwell. 
When we had my twenty-fifth anniversary with the Saturday 
Review [of Literature], I believe he spoke. But for the 
most part our relationship was not based, curiously, on 
world affairs so much as on personal matters. We just got 
along very well together. He lived in a wonderful duplex 
apartment, had all sorts of art objects in it. His 
daughter was a painter and a very fine one. He was a good 
source of history for me. I had an admiration for Woodrow 
Wilson, whom he knew. It's hard for me to realize that he 


must have died about eighteen to twenty years ago. When 
did he die? 

BASIAGO: I believe it was 1965. Twenty years after the 
UN. That sticks in my mind. 

BASIAGO: Following his involvement as the chief of U.S. 
consultants to the UN, were his old students going back to 
learn what he had discovered this time around? Who were 
some of the other students? 

COUSINS: I don't know. He was one-on-one with them. With 
Dewey, it was generally part of a group. But with 
Shotwell, it was one-on-one, especially with his work at 
the Carnegie Endowment for [International] Peace. I would 
sit at his feet and listen to him talk for hours on League 
of Nations matters, other historical matters. He's a very 
decent human being. I had quite a few people in my life 
who were in that particular, not just generation but 
genre: Shotwell, Grenville Clark, Tracy, Edgar [G. ] 
Sisson. [Thomas K.] Finletter was younger, but he was in 
that general tradition with Learned Hand, Judge Learned 
Hand. It was the style that I had associated with the 
American founding fathers. I always felt, for example, 
that Shotwell and Grenville Clark would be very much at 
home with the kind of men who were at the Philadelphia 
constitutional convention. So I had many of those men in 


my life and gravitated to them quite naturally perhaps. 
Now I realize that I'm older than they were. 
BASIAGO: Something that begs asking is what about you at 
that age convinced them that their time was well spent 
dealing with you, educating you, inspiring you? 
COUSINS: I've often wondered myself. It's possible they 
responded to the respect I had for them. But I didn't 
hesitate to convert those experiences into personal 
assets. We got along pretty well, as I did with Professor 
Kilpatrick and Professor [Harold O. ] Rugg. I think I told 
you that two of the greatest honors I think that I received 
were being asked to represent all the students that 
Kilpatrick had taught over the years, and all the students 
Rugg had taught, at their eighty-fifth and ninetieth 
birthday parties. It meant a great deal to me. At those 
dinners you looked out and saw a vast array of former 
students who, well not just in education, but most of them 
leaders in the life of the country. Don't ask me to give 
their names. I don't remember. 

But I don't know what it was that served as a basis 
for Shotwell's devotion. It was really that. He was a 
very devoted friend. And Clark, I was deeply touched when 
Clark came all the way down from New Hampshire to visit me 
the time that I was ill. I had to keep-- He kept getting 
up to go just because he thought that he was tiring me, but 


I relished his presence. John [F. ] Wharton was another 
older man. When John Wharton came to visit me during that 
illness, he wept openly--something I try to discourage 
people from doing when they visit patients today. But it 
was a reflection of genuine feeling, which I had towards 
them as well of course. 

BASIAGO: Individuals like Shotwell had been through some 
very important episodes in world history. Was there an 
urgency with which they sought to communicate what they'd 
learned to the next generation? 

COUSINS: I had no sense of that. I don't think that any 
of those men felt a mission to impart or share, but [they] 
wouldn't hold back when it was sought. 

BASIAGO: Another individual who had contributed to Current 
History and I'm not certain that you met was H. G. Wells, 
an early advocate of world federation. While he was 
contributing to Current History or thereafter did you ever 
meet him? 

COUSINS: No, we corresponded. It's interesting you should 
mention it because Wells and G. B. [George Bernard] Shaw 
tended to be counterposed philosophically, at least in the 
intellectual mind. You found yourself taking sides as you 
would between Jefferson and Hamilton, even though the actual 
differences between the two were not what was supposed or 
at least not as deep as had been supposed. But I had no 


difficulty in coming down on the side of Wells, not that I 
was opposed to Shaw. There was a rivalry for preeminence, 
I suppose. The debate was who was the greatest living 
English writer and thinker, that sort of thing. 

But Wells, to my mind, was beautifully balanced 
intellectually. He's a very deep thinker, and yet he had a 
very lively imagination, as witnessed in his books about 
space. This combination of historical knowledge, his 
Outline of History and his abilities as a novelist, Mr. 
Britling Sees it Through. That was my idea of a rounded 
intellectual: deep in knowledge, deep in wisdom, soaring 
imagination, writing talent. I was sorry that I never got 
to know Wells. I have some letters from him. Curiously, 
the letters from him and the [William] Faulkner letters 
have disappeared from my treasures book. They used to be 
in the treasures book. They're not there anymore. There 
aren't any slips in the blank pages to indicate they were 
taken out. 

BASIAGO: Do you have any theories? 
COUSINS: Beyond what I've said, none. 

BASIAGO: Wells was drawn to this idea of the world as a 
book or a book that would represent the entire world. Do 
you think he ever accomplished that? 

COUSINS: That's a poetical conception, and it didn't have 
to be translated into reality to have value. 


BASIAGO: There's a theme that we touched on briefly in the 
last session. You mentioned the slow progression of the 
development of the idea that technology had to some degree 
outstripped our social and moral traditions. This was a 
concern of Wells's. He was very intrigued by how we would 
arrive at the world peace which would save mankind from the 
destruction which he saw as inevitable. 

COUSINS: The way he put it was that we were involved in a 
race between education and catastrophe. I think that was 
his way of looking at it. 

BASIAGO: A question that I've always been fascinated to 
find answers about is the notion of scientists prior to 
Hiroshima who were concerned about the forward pitch of 
technologically inspired chaos. 

COUSINS: Wells was certainly one of them, and so was 
Bertrand Russell. I break out into a smile when I think of 
Russell because I think of so many things. The blazing 
colors of the man personally. Episodes involving him when 
he came to lunch with the Sat [Saturday] Review [of 
Literature] . When he went to Clara Urquhart ' s place in 
London, on 46 Whimpole Street, right next to the Barrets, to 
have lunch with [Albert] Schweitzer. All these anecdotes, 
my visit with Russell, several visits in London. The 
almost infinite number of facets to the man's personality-- 
but that's not what we were talking about. I just brought 


him in as one of those who long before Hiroshima called 
attention to the increasing gap between achievements in 
technology and in governance. I busted two ribs so-- 
BASIAGO: I know that your archives reveal that after you 
published "Modern Man Is Obsolete, " you sent it around to 
people like Harrison [S.] Brown and other people who became 
representatives of the [Union of] Concerned Scientists. 
We've mentioned some literary people, people like Wells, 
who had a superb grasp of scientific issues. Were there 
more technical people in that constellation of concerned 
humanists prior to the bomb? 

COUSINS: Brown had seen it and felt that this was the 
first thing that he had read that indicated that the public 
knew that this was more than just a weapon. But we got a 
number of responses, one from Carlos [P.] Romulo and one 
from the Overs treets, Harry [A.] and Bonaro [W.] 
Overstreet, quite a few in fact. Nothing that we ever did 
in the Sat Review got more response than that, with the 
possible exception of the John [A.] Ciardi/Anne [M.] 
Lindbergh controversy. But considering the fact that our 
circulation at the time was a lot smaller than it was in 
later years, the heavy response to that editorial would 
dwarf almost anything that happened before or since. 
BASIAGO: So some of the principal world federalists 
contacted you for the first time. 


COUSINS: World federalism as such didn't exist then. 
Einstein was one of those who responded to it. Two of his 
letters are missing too. We had a group called Americans 
United for World Government that grew out of Americans 
United for World Organization and added a certain 
impetus. Those were rather exciting days. A great deal 
was happening. I had a certain sense of central ity in 
connection with it because all the lines seemed to be 
converging at the Sat Review [SR] . We had support not 
just from scientists like Brown but from Leo Szilard, who 
had brought the bomb to the attention of President 
Roosevelt with Alexander Sachs; from Lee [A.] DuBridge, 
president of Caltech [California Institute of Technology] ; 
[George B.] Kistiakowsky of Harvard [University]; Karl 
[T.] Compton. Not all of them agreed fully with me about 
what the design ought to be, but most of them felt that SR 
had perceived the nature of atomic energy in other than 
purely military terms. They responded to the emphasis we 
put on the need to head off an arms race. Szilard was the 
most supportive and he was perhaps the most prominent, 
because he was the one who persuaded Alexander Sachs to 
take him to see the president--call the president's 
attention to the fact that Germany was pretty close to 
having a bomb of its own. 


BASIAGO: I regressed somewhat in order here. Wells had 
written a work in 1914 entitled The World Set Free. Was 
there concern among the Saturday Review group prior to 1945 
in the sense that they were tracking these developments-- 
that it was already a principal issue? Would our advances 
in destructive power become such that civilization itself 
would be endangered? 

COUSINS: There was very little of that. The country was 
preoccupied with the need to save its life against 
nazism. The long-term implications of the new weapons were 
not perceived or even anticipated. But a group that we had 
called Americans United for World Organization tried to 
anticipate the problems of world organization following the 
war and tried to prepare the United States for full 
participation in world organization, mindful of the fact 
that American public opinion after World War I had not been 
so prepared and this resulted in profound liabilities for 
the United States and for the world. 

BASIAGO: I guess the essence of my curiosity on this 
particular question is that we see in the work of people 
like Wells the beginning of that dichotomy that Bucky [R. 
Buckminster] Fuller referred to when he spoke of modern 
civilization as a struggle between utopia and oblivion. In 
the last session you rather surprised me in the sense that 
these individuals at Saturday Review that you were working 


with didn't really seem as particularly surprised or 
shocked by Hiroshima as we here are historically, as we can 
historically conceive it. In a sense, I was looking for 
more validation that there were other visionaries like 
Wells who saw this struggle before them. 

COUSINS: There was a genuine sense of celebration and relief 
at the time the bomb was dropped. I write about this in my 
new book. The Pathology of Power. Have you seen it yet? 
BASIAGO: Yeah, I've read it. 

COUSINS: I don't think that, except for a few circles, there 
was an electric concern. After Modern Man Is Obsolete, there 
were other flurries, the transformation of Americans United 
for World Organization into Americans United for World 
Government. The movement led by Clarence [K.] Streit, Union 
Now, which was addressing itself to somewhat the same concern 
but in little more limited way perhaps. The beginnings of an 
organized political consciousness among the atomic 
scientists, led by Szilard and DuBridge, Willy [William] 
Higinbotham, Spofford [G.] English, and Harrison Brown. But 
the American people were far behind. And Szilard and Brown 
and I would go off on lectures, barnstorming to try to create 
some awareness of the fact that while we could celebrate the 
end of the war, we had to recognize that the war ended in a 
way that set the stage for genuine peril for the United 
States and for the human race in general. 


FEBRUARY 17, 1987 

BASIAGO: I'd like to delve into four individuals who 
you've identified as extremely important in your develop- 
ment and whose memories you cherish fondly. Amy Loveman, 
Henry [S.] Canby, Christopher Morley, and William Rose Benet, 
your editors at Saturday Review. One thing I find remarkable 
in Amy Loveman 's work- -and a theme that redounds through your 
own--is her concern about not giving in to defeatism. The 
necessity of avoiding defeatism is an idea and even a phrase 
I find in many places in your own work--in the notes you pro- 
vided President [John F.] Kennedy for the American University 
speech. We find it again in your essay Celebration of 
Life: [A Dialogue on Immortality and Infinity], and it's 
actually expanded in your philosophy of consequentialism and 
also in a very personal way in an Anatomy of an Illness- -not 
giving in to physical defeat. What about Amy Loveman ' s 
background made her someone who so frequently inspired 
people not to identify with defeatism and seek to avoid it? 
COUSINS: Let me talk about Amy in general. In a very real 
sense, she was the center of the higher literary life in 
New York City. The dinners in her apartment, a modest 
apartment on Seventy-third Street between Second and Third 
Avenues, provided the richest kind of relaxed 
conversation. Amy had two radiating centers. One was at 


the Saturday Review and the other was at the Book-of-the- 
Month Club. The history of the two organizations were 
intertwined because Amy, Henry Canby, and Chris Morley were 
also intimately connected with the Book-of-the-Month 
Club. The Book-of-the-Month Club in a curious sense almost 
drew its brain power from the Saturday Review. Henry Canby 
was the chairman of the board of judges of the Book-of-the- 
Month Club, as well as being editor of the Saturday 
Review. Amy Loveman was in charge of book screening and 
became a judge. Christopher Morley was a judge. Harry 
Scherman helped to support the Saturday Review. Amy would 
divide her time between the two offices. I became aware 
very early of this visceral connection. 

Not long after I came to the Saturday Review Harry 
Scherman took me out to lunch. It was across the street 
from Sat Review, in Longchamp's at Madison Avenue. That 
was where the Book-of-the-Month Club had its offices. We 
were right across the street at 420. Harry took me out to 
lunch and urged me to stand up to the old guard- -by which 
he meant Amy, Henry, and Chris--and not to be afraid to 
move out in new directions and make it my magazine. He 
said you build a great institution by going against conven- 
tions. This puzzled me, because I never regarded Amy, 
Henry, Chris as the old guard. I never conceived that they 
were standing in the way of what I wanted to do. I was 


afraid that I would disappoint Scherman, who helped 
financially support the Sat Review, by not starting out on 
a new track. It never occurred to me that a new track was 
required. All I wanted to do was to make it possible for 
their tradition to have its full luster. 

Obviously, I had some ideas of my own, but this had to 
do with the role of the Sat Review during the war more than 
it did with any basic change in direction of the 
magazine. My editorials tended to reflect the issues of 
the times as they impinged on the intellectual community. 
But I regarded the needs of the Sat Review as developmental 
rather than as points of departure for what had been 
done. I loved the old Sat Review, really, with a great 
deal of reverence. I couldn't ever adjust myself to the 
fact that I would really be in their company. Even today 
I'm surprised when people identify me as a primary figure 
of the Sat Review. I have to say, "Well, that's right. I 
was there more than twice the time that they were." The 
magazine at that time had a readership of 15,000 or 18,000 
or so. At the time I left, there were 650,000 readers. So 
I could understand how people would identify me--not having 
seen the people who had been part of the old magazine. But 
in my own thinking, at least, it was always their magazine, 
always. I always regarded myself as somewhat of a trustee 
for them or a custodian of what they had brought into the 



BASIAGO: The Saturday Review maintained a reputation for 
preserving certain journalistic values. I'm intrigued and 
curious about specifically what kind of social relationship 
you had with them- -being much younger- -and how you were 
being schooled in these values. Were they something that 
you got through osmosis just from being in that 
atmosphere? Or were the things that ultimately went into 
the credo that you drafted for the Saturday Review, this 
idea that the magazine belonged to the readers, that you 
were just the custodians of it, were these things that were 
actually spoken? 

COUSINS: Well, let me go at your questions in sequence. 
On the social level, I had a strong relationship with Amy 
and a pleasant social relationship with Henry Canby but 
very little with Chris Morley. In all three cases it was 
to some extent a matter of geography. Henry Canby spent a 
great deal of his time in Clinton, Connecticut. He'd 
commute, to be sure, and they did have a place in New York, 
a little pad. But he was away a great deal of the time. 
He was not as involved as Amy was in my family matters. 
Amy had a very deep interest in the family. In fact, we 
named one of our girls after her. She'd come out to the 
country and we were very close. I loved that woman. She 
was very supportive. There was a tendency, of course, on 


the part of some people, to ask, how can Norman at the age 
of twenty-five or twenty-six edit a magazine such as 
this? How can you take him seriously? Amy was the 
greatest single supporter I had. As a matter of fact, one 
of the problems I perceived about the Sat Review from the 
very start was the notion that we were perhaps departing 
somehow from its traditions. Amy's presence and support, 
especially with the book publishers, was the strongest 
evidence anyone could have of continuity. Just to have her 
respect and support was one of the great blessings of my 

BASIAGO: I don't know if I misunderstood you. You 
mentioned how there were forces operating upon the 
tradition during the war years. To some extent the 
magazine became more political following the war. I mean, 
it seems rather apparent. It becomes one of the principal 
magazines of a certain consensus, a political consensus. 
Do you feel that the tradition was broken to some degree or 
was it a transformation? I think I understood you to mean 
that you felt that you didn't honor the tradition. 
COUSINS: I had the feeling that I was leading the magazine 
away from its predominantly literary center of gravity. 
That the struggle for survival, which was what we were all 
in at the time, which the magazine tried to reflect, led it 
away from its earlier emphasis. So I recognized that as 


quite deliberate. But it was made possible because of the 
support of people like Amy and Henry for what I was 
doing. Going back to Harry Scherman ' s advice, if I didn't 
see them as resisters or opponents, neither did they see me 
as someone who took the magazine from where they thought it 
ought to be at that particular time. I like to think it 
was a good relationship and that we were shaped as much by 
the times as by a conscious decision to move away from the 
heritage. But it's inevitable that any editor is going to 
put his own stamp on the magazine. The stamp I put on the 
magazine had their support. They felt that the times 
called for that kind of emphasis in the magazine. Amy's 
editorials, Henry's editorials, were very much in step with 
my own. 

BASIAGO: You represented another generation and someone 
who felt responsible for amplifying concern about some of 
the principal issues of our time and the potential for all- 
out destructiveness and the need for world government. 
Being so young and rather talented, were you ever 
frustrated with any of the members of the staff? Was there 
any generational conflict? I realize that you have great 
respect for these individuals. I'm just trying to put 
myself in your shoes and realize that there must have been 
some forces of inertia that you were tugging against as you 
tried to pull out of that tradition--which was so literary-- 


versus the political direction that the magazine took. 
COUSINS: Yes, I suppose there was frustration, but not 
with Amy, Henry, Chris, or Harrison Smith, not the least. 
The frustration at times was with the business 
departments. It was two years before Jack [Jacob R.] 
Cominsky became the publisher. I did have some frustration 
with the business side of the magazine. 
BASIAGO: Were there fears that you would alienate the 
readership rather than expand it by--? 

COUSINS: No, but just in terms of their competence in 
doing their job. I got only encouragement from Amy and 
Henry or Harrison Smith. But the business department would 
use what we were doing as an excuse for not doing a better 
job themselves. It's been general with advertising 
departments. I was somewhat frustrated by bad 
publishers. We got as much support as we did in the old 
days under Amy and Henry, but that never was enough to 
assure the continuation of the magazine. One of the 
important things about Jack was that he recognized the need 
to extend our reach in other areas without at the same time 
losing our gravitational center. Jack was an ideal partner 
in that respect. 

BASIAGO: Was there ever any talk from the advertisers that 
Norman better stop writing about the bomb here or we're 
going to lose the magazine? It seems that quite the 


opposite seems to have happened commercially, 
COUSINS: Now, we're talking about different sets of 
advertisers. Some of the publishers wanted me to write 
more literary editorials. I never regarded the editorial 
page as a private preserve. I encouraged Amy and Henry and 
in fact requested them and Hal to do editorials. In one of 
the surveys we took of publishers about changes they would 
like to see, one of the things that turned up quite high in 
the surveys was that the publishers wanted me to write 
editorials more frequently. They felt that just one 
editorial every other week or one even every three weeks 
was not enough. But a lot of that was perhaps implicit 
rather than explicit in terms of their support for the 
magazine. Max [L.] Schuster of Simon and Schuster told me 
after I came to the magazine that we couldn't possibly get 
book advertising with a tiny circulation of 18,000 to 
20,000, whatever. I said, "What do you think would be 
impressive to you?" He said, "If you get 50,000, you 
couldn't keep the book publishers out." 

When we got 50,000, I wasn't aware that Simon and 
Schuster was knocking down any doors to get in. 
Publishers' advertising budgets were so low that it was 
obvious to me, and it certainly was obvious to Jack, that 
the magazine couldn't survive on publisher advertising 
support. So we had to get out beyond the publishers. My 


editorial emphasis, which was on ideas and culture in 
general, fit in with Jack's notion of broadening the 
base. We fit together very well in that respect. The 
magazine began to grow not only in circulation but in 
advertising. We had many milestones: passing 75,000 
circulation, passing 100,000 circulation, passing Harper's 
[Monthly], passing the Atlantic [Monthly], finally passing 
the New Yorker. Also in the general profitability of the 
magazine, after so many years of being subsidized. 


FEBRUARY 24, 1987 

BASIAGO: When we last spoke, we mentioned the influence 

individuals like Amy Loveman and Henry [S.] Canby had on 


COUSINS: Oh yes. 

BASIAGO: Reviewing your memories of them in present tense, 

I get a sense of how much you admire them. 

COUSINS: You read the piece I did after Amy's death. 

BASIAGO: Yes, I did. But I'm still wondering about their 

backgrounds. We started to talk about the way in which Amy 

seemed to personally contest defeatism and also wrote about 

it and then perhaps even influenced yourself in writing 

about that idea. 

COUSINS: You probably read some of her editorials in the 

old Sat [Saturday] Review [of Literature]. Good. 

BASIAGO: Where might that have come from? 

COUSINS: In her case? Amy came from a southern family, 

one branch of which had the Loveman Department Store. I 

think that was in--may have been--Atlanta, I'm not sure, 

although she grew up in the East. I think she went to 

Barnard [College]. It surprised me to discover I'm as old 

as Amy was just before she died. One of the interesting 

things about life is the speed with which you become older 

than your grandparents. She became a researcher for the 


New York [Evening] Post and became Henry Canby ' s assistant 
on the Post and then began to write for the Post. And 
gradually she came to occupy a very respected position in 
the book industry, augmented when she became the head of 
the review assignment desk at the Book-of-the-Month Club. 
She assigned out books for the Sat Review. 

As I said the last time, the Book-of-the-Month Club 
and the Saturday Review became rather intertwined through 
Henry, Amy, Chris [Christopher Morley] , and also Harry 
Scherman's involvement with the Sat Review, which I told 
you about- -the fact that he would help finance the 
magazine. A lot of money those days was in the vicinity of 
$10,000 a year. Occasionally, he would put that much into 
the magazine. He also made available the list of the book 
club for the Sat Review's own subscription campaign. He 
would also write the promotion for it. He's one of the 
promotion geniuses, I think, of the twentieth century. 
That's how he started the Book-of-the-Month Club, as the 
result of the mailing pieces that he set out. 
BASIAGO: Some of your best writing has come out of 
personal struggles, such as your collagen disease in 1964 
that gave us Anatomy of an Illness. Were there struggles 
in her life that you had become aware of? 

COUSINS: No. No. Her family was the magazine. She had a 
very large constituency. And while she wasn't the Elsa 


Maxwell type in terms of being a social radiating center, 
nonetheless her home was a gathering place for authors and 
publishers and editors. An invitation to her home 
therefore was highly prized. She had many friends in the 
literary community. I met a great many people there who 
became my own friends. She wasn't one who scattered 
blessings, but if it became known that you had her blessing 
you would not find that disadvantageous. 

BASIAGO: One thing I find remarkable about your writing is 
the tendency to celebrate remarkable individuals, self- 
actualizing individuals, such as [Jawaharlal] Nehru, [Dag] 
Hammarskjold, [Albert] Schweitzer, Adlai [E.] Stevenson. 
We know who some of Amy Loveman's heroes were- -Winston 
Churchill--you wrote about that. Who were the heroes of 
Canby, Morley, and [William Rose] Benet? 

COUSINS: Canby had literary heroes. I don't know about 
Morley and Benet, except for one or two incidents which 
I'll talk about. But for Canby, I believe-- I didn't know 
him intimately and we never discussed this, but I believe 
his pantheon would include the transcendentalists and the 
nineteenth-century literary giants: [Walt] Whitman, [Henry 
David] Thoreau, [Ralph Waldo] Emerson, [Margaret] Fuller. 
He was a mild-mannered man but occupied a position of 
considerable importance in publishing. Not just because of 
the Sat Review and the book club but because of the 


National Institute of Arts and Letters, of which he was 
secretary, I believe, and for a period perhaps president. 
But he didn't command universal support or admiration. The 
new wave of writers tend to [view him as] perhaps a little 
academic and bloodless. 

Chris Morley seemed to have more juices coursing 
through him than Henry, in the view of the younger 
people. When you asked me who were the people he admired, 
at first I started to say I wasn't sure. But as I thought 
about it after a moment I wasn't sure either of that 
because Don [R. P.] Marquis was certainly someone he 
admired. He was one of the finest essayists of his time, 
much loved by booksellers. This was not altogether to his 
disadvantage because booksellers pushed his books. He 
would take pains to visit booksellers. He was a good 
friend of Vincent Starret's, another bookman. He wrote 
some novels. The two that are perhaps best known are 
Thunder On The Left and Kitty Foyle. Kitty Foyle was very, 
perhaps, revealing. Any man who writes a novel has to be 
prepared for that, and that's why Jean [Anderson] is very 
reluctant to have me publish the novel I've just written, 
for that reason. 

BASIAGO: What was revealed? What was revealed in Kitty 
COUSINS: Relationships with secretaries which people 


almost automatically associated with him. He seemed to 
know too much about it for it not to be true. 
BASIAGO: Even Morley's titles reveal a lover of life-- 
titles like Bom in a Beer Garden. We see a very light- 
hearted side. 

COUSINS: And the books, the one he did about Hoboken, the 
Seacoast of Bohemia. What did he call it? 

BASIAGO: I'm not certain. You speak of it as an attitude 
of sagacious merriment that seemed to enshroud him. At the 
same time, he was a high-powered intellect. What did the 
serious side consist of? What was he searching for? What 
was his compulsion? 

COUSINS: We assume that he had a serious side. That was 
never really confirmed. Amy would tell me of meetings at 
the Book-of-the-Month-Club where he had to have a serious 
side because he had to appraise books. He would have 
enthusiasms but not what one might consider measured 
evaluations or appraisals. He could argue for something 
with greater cogency because of his enthusiasm [and] then 
oppose it because of his scholarly criticism. But he was a 
bookman first and foremost- -regarded as such. 
BASIAGO: Was the study of Chinese as much--? 
COUSINS: Yes, Mandarin. 

BASIAGO: That came out of his intellectual curiosity, or 


COUSINS: I don't know. 

BASIAGO: You write about him that his favorite quotation 

was a line in a letter from [John] Keats to [Joshua] 

Reynolds. "Now it appears to me that almost any man may, 

like the spider, spin from his own innards his own airy 

citadel." Did you have a sense that he was striving for 

literary greatness, or was he too much in love with life to 

pursue that? We find a lot of novels. How do you put him 

into perspective as a writer? 

COUSINS: I think that the verdict on him is apparent in 

the fact that he's probably been largely forgotten. One 

has to respect that verdict, which is that he was a product 

of his time, well liked by many, a very talented writer and 

essayist. People feared him, as they fear anyone with a 

good sense of humor. But he was not one of the major 

figures of the twentieth-century literary landscape, not 

even as an essayist, although he was certainly talented as 


BASIAGO: This question might be a little bit too specific, 

but I'm going to pursue it anyway for those who seriously 

study humor or comedy. You write that he knew the 

difference between wit and humor. 

COUSINS: Oh yes. 

BASIAGO: Can we define that any further? 

COUSINS: Yes. Humor is packaged. Wit is generated. 


Humor is a commodity and wit is spontaneous. Wit is 
invented. Humor is contrived. Wit is spontaneous. Humor 
is recirculated. Wit produces smiles or chuckles. Humor, 
belly laughs--but both are successful. 

BASIAGO: Something I find, in getting back to Henry Canby, 
is a tendency in a lot of intellectuals from his era that 
approaches what historians have called the theory or ethic 
of mind mastery. I'll go a little bit further. He wrote 
that a sanguine, full-blooded man thinks well of his 
universe, a melancholy man thinks ill of his. We find this 
in a lot of individuals from this time--representative 
people from Marcus Garvey to Woodrow Wilson. Did you get 
any sense of that, that he was one of these individuals who 

COUSINS: I'm glad you picked out that passage, because 
it's a quintessential statement in terms of thoughtfulness, 
writing style, allusion, and perhaps sums up the man very 
well . 

BASIAGO: There's a saying, of course, "As a man thinketh, 
so he is." In some sense this would come to further 
flowering in your own work, in your medical writings, this 
idea that psychologically we could pull ourselves up out of 
our physical troubles. 

COUSINS: Well, Cardinal [John Henry] Newman I think was 
the one who made that characterization epigramatically, so 


that's associated with him. I think this is true, because 
I think that the formulation of language is an infallible 
index to a man's mind. The way words are used, the way 
they're joined together, the way they are shaped into 
paragraphs, all this, it seems to me, says a great deal 
about a person: about education, about outlook, about 
thought patterns. I've always had a great admiration for 
anyone who can express himself in a paragraph, who knows 
where the commas belong, who can even speak in 
semicolons. That was certainly true of Canby and to a 
lesser extent of Morley, though Benet was perhaps less 
measured, more sentimental, rather spontaneous, very open, 
very disarming--and very vulnerable perhaps because of 
it. People tended to step on him because of that. 
BASIAGO: Can you think of examples that stick in your 


About Bill? 


Yes. Yes. He was self -abnegating. I always had 
the feeling that he was taken advantage of commercially, 
something that never happened to Chris Morley. Chris was a 
good businessman when he had to be. Bill was not. Bill 
never looked out for himself. Amy found herself in the role 
of sort of a mother protector for Bill and would intercede 
when she thought the people were taking advantage of Bill. 


He very seldom made demands for himself. You almost found 
yourself, without realizing, taking advantage of him. We did 
an anthology of poetry [The Poetry of Freedom] together. 
Before I knew what was happening. Bill took on most of the 
work. We had a tacit understanding of what the division of 
labor would be. I found myself reluctant to protest that he 
was doing too much. Perhaps I took advantage of him by 
letting him do it. But what I'm trying to suggest is that he 
almost positioned himself for being disadvantaged. I would 
guess, too, that in his relationships with his publishers he 
would go along with whatever they proposed in terms of 
royalties or anything else. I would think he never made any 
requests. I'm not sure he even had a literary agent. 
BASIAGO: When you sat down with him to arrive at the 
selection criteria for The Poetry of Freedom, was it mostly 
your input then? Was he yielding to your design? 
COUSINS: Well, I had put out a little volume called A 
Treasury of Democracy, in the course of which I had many 
items, poetical items, that couldn't be included. So I had 
a head start and I turned over to him, as I remember, a 
great deal of historical material, just to indicate to him 
what was available. I wasn't prepared for the fact that he 
would do all the dirty work in connection with following it 
up, looking up the originals, checking on the translations, 
checking on copyright, clearing poems that were not in 


copyright. So I would just shovel the stuff in. The tough 
part was clearing it for publication, which he did. He 
brought in a great many contemporary items and much more 
from English literature than I did. I'd been working 
historically within the English, French, German, and 
Italian. Sometimes the material I would send him would be 
drawn from longer poems. Bill would run this down, get the 
full poem and sometimes, perhaps, enlarge the selection to 
include what he thought was a more representative passage, 
but he never complained. On the Sat Review, he never asked 
for a pay raise, nor did Amy as a matter of fact. 

Chris, yes. Bennett [A.] Cerf, most of all. Bennett 
needed it least. Bennett would make demands that I 
wouldn't dare tell the others on the staff about, because I 
thought they would never talk to him again. For example, 
Bennett wanted an understanding, not just about how many 
precis he would write, but he wanted to know in advance how 
many times he would be listed on the cover. I forget what 
the number would be. Also, he had tricks in his 
bookkeeping. He wanted us--this was a tax advantage--to 
buy his furniture instead of paying his fee. That sort of 
thing. I couldn't imagine two more contrasting types than 
Bennett Cerf and Bill Benet. Bennett published our book, 
which he put in the Modern Library series. From that day 
to this, I'm not aware that we received a cent of 



BASIAGO: You mentioned the way in which this period was a 
time when the literary community was involved in an 
American renaissance. Was there a sense of historical 
rediscovery? Looking back as a college student in the 
eighties, we find Emerson, Whitman, and Thoreau there, and 
they seem to be literary standards. Was there a sense of 
excitement being generated, that they were saying we'd 
forgotten this essay by Emerson? 

COUSINS: No, you see the war, whether in terms of 
proximity or actuality, was a profound generator of 
traditional American materials or even heroes. In the 
1940s, we had a spate of books on Whitman. Henry Canby did 
one on Thoreau. Ralph [L.] Rusk did a two-volume study of 
Emerson at the time. There was a biography of Margaret 
Fuller. There was an attempt to recognize a tradition, and 
some of those who denied that we had a tradition were the 
most prominent in discovering that we had one after all. 
But it was part of the introspection and proclamation of 
values that would attend a war such as that. 
BASIAGO: Canby had been a professor of English at Yale 
[University] and an enthusiast of John Masefield, Robert 
Louis Stevenson, and Thomas Hardy. 
COUSINS: That's right. 
BASIAGO: Here's someone many years senior. Did you ever 


feel that he was in a professorial relationship? Was he 
actually suggesting things that you should read and put in 
your literary quill? 

COUSINS: Well, I don't think I've had much difficulty with 
older men, men of authority or tradition. When I look 
back, I feel I've been very lucky in my relationships with 
these older men. At Current History with M. E. [Merle E.] 
Tracy. On the Sat Review and during the war, it was with 
men you've mentioned. Also with men like Elmer [H.] Davis 
who brought me onto OWI [United States Office of War 
Information] during the war to edit USA when he was the 
head of it. I in turn hired someone in his seventies to 
work with me on USA. This was a man named Edgar [G.] 
Sisson. I found him-- Do you know about this at all? 
BASIAGO: I recognize the name. I wasn't aware of the 
hiring at all. 

COUSINS: We're skipping around, of course. But during the 
war, the Office of War Information was on Fifty-seventh 
Street, off Eighth Avenue. When I would come into my 
office through the long hallway, I noticed a rather 
diminutive and very elderly gentleman seated at what 
usually is the guard's desk. I discovered that this was 
the desk the guard used at night just outside the front 
door, and this was the only place that they could find for 
this man. When I asked questions about him, they said Bob 


Sherwood had sentimentally hired him and that's all he knew 
about him. This was Robert E. Sherwood, the playwright. 
Well, I looked into it and discovered the elderly gentleman 
was Edgar Sisson, whose position in World War I 
corresponded to that of Elmer Davis in World War II. In 
fact, he went with Woodrow Wilson to Europe. Then you had 
the--what at one time--well, the infamous Sisson papers. 
[One Hundred Red Days; A Personal Chronicle of the 
Bolshevik Revolution] . But here he was now, a little man 
in an eyeshade with garters on his sleeves. I made a point 
of introducing myself and talking to him. I brought him 
onto USA and made him one of the editors. And I treated 
him with great respect, which of course he deserved. 

But the same thing was true with John [C] Farrar of 
Farrar and Rinehart [Inc.], the publishers. An older man, 
not very old as I look back now, but maybe twenty years 
older than I was. I found out that he was being sidelined 
and I brought him onto USA. There was the relationship 
with James T. Shotwell and Schweitzer, of course, before I 
joined their ranks as an older man myself. The fact that 
Canby was much older and was regarded even by Harry 
Scherman of the Book-of-the-Month Club as someone I might 
have to contend with didn't seem to me to be valid 
concerns. Quite the contrary, I relished my association 
with him. I did everything possible to increase his role 


on the Saturday Review and try to persuade him to write 
editorials for it and other pieces. I think he was aware, 
not just of my respect, but that I regarded SRL [Saturday 
Review of Literature] as his magazine--and I still do. Not 
only his, but Amy's, Henry's, and Bill's. No, I didn't 
have that feeling about him. 

BASIAGO: Perhaps I stressed the idea that he was older too 
much. I'm wondering-- Here you had a Ph.D. in English from 
Yale. Were there opportunities for him to suggest reading 
material or were you just--? 
COUSINS: For me personally? 

BASIAGO: Yeah, I'm wondering the way in which your 
education continued in this circle of people. 
COUSINS: Well, you're right. It was a profound 
educational experience, a beautiful educational 
experience. They transmitted their enthusiasms to me just 
as Tracy did. Tracy's enthusiasms were among the Greek and 
Roman writers, and he provided more than an introduction to 
them. He set the table for me. Henry's enthusiasms, as I 
say, tended to emphasize the transcendentalists . Amy's was 
in English literature: the Brontes; in the United States, 
Ellen Glasgow and Edith Wharton. Chris was somewhat more 
adventurous. [Ezra] Pound and [T. S.] Eliot, although he 
didn't make a religion of them as some of the others did 
outside the magazine. I have regarded this as a great 


opportunity and never really felt that I fully occupied the 
editor's chair--perhaps I did towards the end. I would 
meet people whose acquaintance with the magazine began 
during the days of Canby, Loveman, Morley. But then 
suddenly I realized that that readership was dying out, and 
also it was a very small readership. There were perhaps 
15,000 readers or so. Then one day I looked and we had 
650,000 readers. So they couldn't all possibly have been 
reading the magazine or come on the magazine during that 

The approbation of men like George [P.] Stevens, my 
predecessor at SRL, meant a great deal to me. Stevens 
would have lunch with me at the Century Club and surprised 
me by approving of the way the Sat Review was developing. 
Stevens was the editor for a short period after Canby, as 
you know, but he had been with the magazine for some years 
as managing editor. So he was part of the group, although 
he had gone to [J. B.] Lippincott's [Company] when I came, 
while the others were there. One of the things that deeply 
touched me and surprised me was that Stevens, in his 
seventies, would ask me to come to lunch at the Century. 
He said he would like to have me write his biography for 
the Century Club after he died. I honored that request. 
It will be coming out very shortly. That says a great deal 
about a man's feelings. And again I hadn't realized that 


the relationship on his side was as deep as that. I was 

rather touched by that request. I'd always had a curious 

diffidence about whether I really belonged in that crowd, I 

suppose. Even as the magazine grew and developed, I still 

think in terms of the original 15,000. 

BASIAGO: You mentioned that your association with some of 

the early world federalists, like Beardsley Ruml and Clark 

[M.] Eichelberger, began at the Century Club. Were Canby 

and Benet and Morley members? 


BASIAGO: It's an interesting connection. 

COUSINS: Yes. The Century was not just a club. It's not 

even called a club. It's an association. But it was 

something of an academy, like the Atheneum of London. It 

was a fixed membership, and the entering age was fairly 

well along. John Mason Brown was the one who proposed me 

for membership in the Century. I was then maybe thirty-one 

or thirty-two. I think I was the youngest member of the 

Century at that time. 

Then Frank Crowninshield--who was a highly literate 
man-about-town, editor of the old Vanity Fair, superbly 
developed intellectually, beautifully rounded, and a fellow 
who always sat at the head of the table- -very graciously 
proposed me for membership at the Coffee House Club, which 
is more select because it's smaller. It was right across 


the way from the old Sat Review at 25 West Forty-fifth 
Street. You went up a flight of stairs over the restaurant 
right next to the Seymour Hotel and they had this rather 
large suite, two rooms. One had a long English table. 
Everyone would come there for lunch and sit at the same 
long table. Then there was the living room. At night 
they'd put tables up in the living room for individual 
dinners. It was a marvelous facility. It was formed by 
John Barrymore and Bob [Robert C] Benchley and some 
playwrights. Someone had to die before you could get in. 
Crowninshield told me that he had a friend who was pretty 
well along in years and was ailing, and that this friend 
had agreed to make me the heir to his place at the Coffee 
House Club. Three weeks later I discovered that I had 
been, in effect, appointed for membership because of the 
fact that Frank Crowninshield had died. He was the one. 
He didn't tell me that he was ill, but he was. An older 
man, a great guy. 

BASIAGO: What was the total membership? 

COUSINS: I have no way of knowing. Couldn't have been 
more than seventy- five or eighty or so. 
BASIAGO: That was at the Coffee House Club. 

BASIAGO: How about the Century Club? Was it larger? 
COUSINS: About four hundred. 


BASIAGO: I found some invitations to Council On Foreign 
Relations [CFR] functions from around the same era. Any 
relationship besides maybe some shared membership? 
COUSINS: No relationship, but the Council On Foreign 
Relations represented the establishment, not just in New 
York City, but nationally. Here's where you had all those 
in and out of government who were involved in foreign 
policy and the making of public opinion in that area. 
Hamilton Fish Armstrong was the editor of Foreign Affairs 
magazine when I first became a member of the Council On 
Foreign Relations, but he would have people leading 
discussions like Dean [G.] Acheson or John [J.] McCloy, who 
was the American [high] commissioner in Germany after the 
war, who was with Midland, Tweed, [Hope, Hadley, and 
McCloy], the top law firm in the country. 
BASIAGO: He had been assistant to [Henry L. ] Stimson 
during the war. 

COUSINS: That's right, he had been assistant secretary of 
state at one point. Tom [Thomas W. ] Lament. I should have 
mentioned Tom Lament most emphatically when I spoke about 
older men who influenced me. 


FEBRUARY 24, 1987 

COUSINS: So this was the New York City establishment, the 
upper echelons represented by Council and the Century 
Club. It was perhaps a good overlap, rather considerable 
overlapping membership, but not among business types. John 
McCloy was a member of the Century. There's a very 
interesting story about the Century which illustrates 
perhaps the nature of the club and the place it has in New 
York life. Ordway Tead, then one of the editors of 
Harper's [Monthly] and the chairman of the [New York] Board 
of Higher Education in New York City, met with a Wall 
Street friend. He was surprised that the friend asked him 
to propose him, the Wall Street man, for membership. Tead 
said, "You know, that's not really the way it happens. 
We're not so much a club as an academy. We recognize 
achievements in the arts and sciences." "Well," said the 
broker, "look at Thomas Lament. He's a member of the 
Century." "That's true, but we have a provision," Tead 
said, "in the by-laws called 'amateurs in the arts.' Mr. 
Lamont qualifies under that. After all, he's a highly 
literate man. He's had an important part in the cultural 
life of the city, helped the library. He also takes care 
of the mortgage of the Century Club." "And how much is 
that?" asked the broker. "It's about $60,000 a year." The 


broker said, "Well, Mr. Lament is now seventy- two, and I 
expect that before long you will be looking for someone to 
take his place. I want you to know that I'm prepared to 
put up $60,000 by way of demonstrating my own amateur 
standing in the arts." Tead said, "Thank you very much. 
I'll be glad to relay this information," which he did. 

In due course, Tom Lament did die, and Tead remembered 
this man. He, too, was elected to the Century and was true 
to his word. But he never set foot in the Century from one 
year to the next. Tead asked him about it. He said, 
"You've worked so hard. You asked me to get you in the 
club. How is it that I never see you in the club?" He 
said, "Well, actually I hate midtown. I have no intention 
ever of going to Century." He said, "Why did you want to 
become a member?" "Well," he said, "I think it would be 
nice if, when I'd died, the New York Times ran an obit 
[obituary] on me. They would say, 'He was a member of the 
Century Club.'" In due course, he did die and the New York 
Times neglected to say that he was a member of the Century 
Club! I thought it was a rather wistful story, but I felt 
a little reassured, because I thought he died thinking that 
he would be mentioned. That's what counts. 

BASIAGO: Can't leave it here either. I've noted that some 
of the recent members of the Council on Foreign Relations 
have been journalists, as opposed to public policy makers 


or people tending more toward political science. Were 
literary men like Canby and Benet excluded? 

COUSINS: I don't think they were excluded. I don't think 
they came to the minds of the nominating committee 
naturally. I had a deep interest in world affairs, you 
see, and wrote about it and spoke about it and knew McCloy 
and David Rockefeller and Ham [Hamilton F. ] Armstrong and 
some of the other major figures of the club. Frank 
Altschul was a very good friend, an older man who was a 
very good friend. It was Altschul who asked me if I'd like 
to join. 

BASIAGO: In the subsequent years, how many meetings did 
this entail and how significant an involvement did you have 
with, let's say, first the Century Club and then the CFR? 
COUSINS: The Century was purely social. I would go there 
for lunch, very seldom for dinner. I would go to the 
Coffee House Club when Ellen [Kopf Cousins] and I wanted to 
have dinner in town or take someone to dinner. In the 
Council, they would ask you about your areas of interest. 
Mine were India, Soviet Union, and Japan. So they would 
notify me about meetings that concerned those countries and 
occasionally would have me introduce authorities who came 
to speak on those subjects and lead the discussion. Once 
or twice, I was asked to talk at the Century in those 
afternoon meetings and once at an evening dinner meeting. 


about the changes in the Soviet Union. You asked me how 
often? Well, confining myself to those three areas, I 
would say not very often. If I went to one meeting a month 
that probably would be a lot. 

BASIAGO: We'll have to gather some more information on 
Henry Canby. He had edited a book in 1919 entitled War 
Aims and Peace Ideals. Apparently he had also been active 
with John Dewey in Dewey's work with emigre 
intellectuals. Do you have any recollections if this 
continued into the time when you made his acquaintance? 
COUSINS: Dewey's? 

BASIAGO: Not Dewey's, but Canby ' s work as an actual 
political activist. 

COUSINS: No, Canby was supportive by that time in his 
life. There was a real question whether the Sat Review was 
justified, as a literary journal, in publishing non- 
literary pieces. Both Canby and Amy supported me in my 
writings. At the end of the war, for example, I did a 
piece on the atomic bomb called "Modern Man Is Obsolete, " 
which had their full support. It seemed almost to set the 
course of the Review away from the predominant literary 
emphasis to a philosophical and political emphasis. 
BASIAGO: Canby read that manuscript or contributed 
ideas? What was his level of supportiveness? 
COUSINS: I didn't show Canby the editorials before they 


were published. He read it in the early copies of the 
magazine. Amy read it before it was published, of course, 
because she would edit all the copy that went down. Chris 
was rather airy about it. He said, "It's a fine piece, 
Norman." But he said, "You used the word 'shall' when you 
should have used the word 'will.'" That was his main 
comment about it. 

BASIAGO: Now that we've brought it up, I have several 
follow-up questions on that particular essay. One that I'm 
wondering is, you talk about Malthus several times. Of 
course, the Malthusian dilemma of geometric population 
growth in a world of arithmetic life-support increase has 
been described by some as one of the roots of war. When 
you were writing the essay, were you working from that 

BASIAGO: How did you put Malthus in perspective as a--? 
COUSINS: In surveying the totality of the problems, 
population obviously was one of the major ones. But it 
seemed to me that the world ' s big problem then was not that 
it might have too many people, but might have too few. 
BASIAGO: I noticed that in the Malthus reference there's a 
qualification right after that. One thing I'm also 
wondering about the essay-- Part of it is an appeal for 
another meeting of the UN [United Nations] that would 


arrive at some inventory for the atomic age that you would 
introduce in that particular essay. When was that finally 
realized? In 1970 with the [United Nations] Conference on 
Human Survival? 
COUSINS: That's right. 

BASIAGO: So it took twenty- five years to get that put 
together. Was there anyone working with you following that 
lead of that being introduced in "Modern Man Is Obsolete, " 
right in 1945? 

COUSINS: Yes. We had, as I told you, an organization 
called Americans United for World Organization, which was 
designed to educate the American people about the need for 
membership in world organization, unlike World War I. Now, 
this gave way to Americans United for World Government with 
the dropping of the bomb, where it became clear that we 
didn't have that much time, and that we could not move in a 
very orderly sequential way of a period of years, but we 
had to take longer steps. One had to do with world 
controls. We were afraid at that time that once the atomic 
armaments race began, nations wouldn't give it up. That 
was why we called for genuine world controls. The piece 
that I did was not so much an analysis as a sort of a 
personal manifesto and commitment that carried over for the 
rest of my life. 
BASIAGO: Another question that comes to mind after 


rereading the essay again last night-- Toward the end you 
present in a rather, I think, Emersonian fashion an all-or- 
nothing choice between world government and the option you 

COUSINS: And the destruction of all laboratories. 
BASIAGO: Yeah, dismantle civilization without the bomb. 
COUSINS: It was really metaphorical. 
BASIAGO: I was going to ask if you really--? 
COUSINS: It was an attempt to get people to face up to the 
implications. Obviously, if they aren't going to smash all 
laboratories and all the appurtenances of civilization, 
they'd better do some other things. That was the way in 
which it was cast. 

BASIAGO: So you weren't entertaining the possibility for 
some scenario somewhere between intentional dismantling 

COUSINS: No, no. It was a poetical allusion. 
BASIAGO: Another thing that I found (I don't know how 
significant it is) is the fact that Canby and Morley were 
Quakers--Morley by descent and his family, and Canby 
apparently wrote about it. 

BASIAGO: I found one reference to the fact that they 
utilized the Quaker principle of "concurrence" in their 
editorial meetings. Were there any other ways that Quaker 


life impacted the staff, transformed it beyond the general 
pacifist commitment? 

COUSINS: The Quaker syndrome was not in any greater 
evidence than other religions would be, which is to say 
these are articles of faith that you proclaim. With 
Quakers, however, you did have a considerable spillover 
into life-style. But it would have been a mistake to think 
that it dominated every discussion. It did not, anymore 
than it did with Richard [M.] Nixon in bombing Cambodia. 
BASIAGO: You would go on to correspond with A. [Abraham] 
J. Muste and cofound SANE [Committee for a Sane Nuclear 
Policy] with another Friend, Clarence [E.] Pickett. Beyond 
this connection with working with Quaker Friends at 
Saturday Review, when was the actual connection to the 
American Friends Service Committee? Was that in '57, '58 
with SANE or--? 

COUSINS: I had a deep respect for the Quaker philosophy. 
I was identified publicly more than once as a Quaker. 
BASIAGO: Something to be proud of. 

COUSINS: As a Quaker. We get along pretty well. I don't 
know whether I told you that one time I got a telephone 
call from a man representing the Veterans of Foreign Wars 
in Dallas. Did I tell you about this in connection with 
Mr. [E. L.] De Golyer? 
BASIAGO: No, we haven't spoken of Mr. De Golyer yet. 


COUSINS: He identified himself and said that he understood 
that I was going to speak at a Quaker regional meeting in 
Dallas. I said, "That's right." He said, "Well, we 
thought we ought to let you know that we intend to put a 
picket line around the auditorium. I don't know whether 
you know anything about who these Quakers really are. Do 
you realize that they're pacifists?" I said, "Yes, I'm 
aware of that." He said, "Well, this is an insult to 
anyone who believes in the United States. We thought we'd 
let you know so you would at least have the option of not 
coming if you felt this would embarrass you." I said, "I'm 
sorry that you're going to put a picket line around the 
place, but I really think that you ought to look into the 
history of Quakers in America. They made great 
contributions to the founding of this country, and were so 
regarded by the American founding fathers, a number of whom 
were Quakers themselves." He said, "If you won't be 
embarrassed about it, what about Mr. De Golyer? Don't you 
think that he would be embarrassed when you come to 
Dallas?" I said, "You know, that never occurred to me, and 
it should have. I just want to tell you that if Mr. De 
Golyer would be embarrassed by my coming to Dallas to speak 
to this Quaker meeting, I won't come. Have you spoken to 
Mr. De Golyer?" They said, "No." I said, "Well, why don't 
you speak to him? I just want to give you my word that if 


this would be of the slightest embarrassment to him, I'll 
withdraw. " 

So I sat back and waited for the inevitable phone 
call. Now, Mr. D was one of the most prominent citizens of 
Dallas, highly regarded. They wanted him to be the 
chairman of the Community Chest fund drive, the Red Cross 
fund drive. When any distinguished guest came to Dallas, 
he was always the one who would be on the reception 
committee. He was a man of great culture, and also 
represented-- He was the founder of Amerada [Corporation] , 
you see, so he had this combined role. 

Well, the call came. It was Mr. D. "Norman, " he 
said, "I understand you're coming down to Dallas next 
week." I said, "That's right." He said, "Well, I just 
want to be sure that you're going to stay at the house as 
you usually do." I said, "Yes, D. Was there any immediate 
occasion for this call?" He said, "Oh. Well, some 
goddamned fool from the one of the veterans groups called 
me and told me they're going to a picket line around the 
place. You really are coming, aren't you?" I said, "Yes, 
I am." He said, "Okay." He was about to hang up, I said, 
"D, did you drop both shoes?" He says, "Oh well, I suppose 
you'd find out anyway." He said, "After I got that call, I 
phoned the Quakers and found out who was running the 
meeting and asked who was going to introduce you. Someone 


there was thinking pretty fast and said, 'We haven't 
decided yet.'" I said, "I just want you to know that if 
you can't find anyone, I'll be glad to introduce him." 
"Mr. D, we'd be very happy to have you do it and make that 
firm right now." He said, "Just one thing, I suggest that 
you put in the newspapers the fact that I'm participating 
in this program." 

Well, when they did, all opposition to the meeting of 
course collapsed. There was no picket line. Instead there 
were an awful lot of mink coats at the Quaker meeting, more 
than I'd ever seen at any Quaker meeting in any part of the 
United States. It went off without incident. D's 
introduction was more than just adequate. He didn't 
confine himself to the usual introduction hype. On the way 
home in the car, he congratulated me. I thanked him, of 
course, for the introduction. He congratulated me on the 
talk and then said in a very matter-of-fact way, "Norman, 
it was a good talk, but I didn't agree with a goddamned 
thing you said." That was Mr. D. He never agreed with the 
[United World] Federalists, but supported me in my 
activities. And when we wanted to hire a new executive 
director for the federalists who'd had business experience 
and needed the $50,000 to do it, I called D, and he gave me 
the money . 

The Petroleum Club in Dallas has a very limited 


membership, as you might imagine. These are the movers and 
shakers of petroleum in the world. Mr. D took me to the 
club for lunch, then beckoned. "You see that fellow with 
that table in the middle, the tall man?" I said, "Yes." 
He said, "That's H, [Haroldson] L. Hunt. Do you know who 
Hunt is?" I said, "Yes, I do." He says, "Let's have some 
fun." Well, Mr. D, being number one in the oil industry, 
had beckoning privileges at the Petroleum Club. He called 
over H. L. Hunt and introduced me and then said, "As I 
understand, you're looking for an editor for your Facts 
Forum." This was a right-wing hate sheet. "Yup, sure 
am. Got any candidates?" He said, "Norman here is the 
best editor I know. You ought to talk to him. " He said, 
"Well, thank you, D. Mr. Cousins, I would like to talk to 
you about this." He said, "Do you have editorial 
experience?" D said, "Yes. He's a damn good editor. He's 
the editor of the Sat Review." Hunt just went, "God damn 
it, D. You always pull my leg, " and he went storming 
off. That's the way D was. 


OCTOBER 20, 1987 

BASIAGO: Today, I'd like to turn our attention to your 
years at the [United States] Office of War Information 
[OWI]. Broadly speaking, the Office of War Information 
sought to communicate American aims during World War II and 
at the same time tried to convey the ideals that could give 
rise to a peaceful democratic world. I found in your 
archives that you got your appointment as editor of USA 
magazine on your birthday in 1942, 
COUSINS: Which I didn't realize. 

BASIAGO: How were you drafted to edit USA? And what was 
the specific propaganda mission of that journal? 
COUSINS: Elmer [H.] Davis, who at the time was perhaps the 
most highly regarded of American newscasters and 
commentators, had been on the editorial board of the 
Saturday Review [of Literature]. [He was a] Rhodes 
scholar, classicist, Greek, Latin. He once gave the annual 
lecture at the New York Public Library in Latin, which was 
published in Latin. He became the head of the Office of 
War Information. At this remove, I believe that two men 
were responsible for my coming to OWI . One was Elmer 
Davis, who was head of the organization. The second was 
John [W. ] Hackett, who had been editor of then Look 
magazine and who had previously been on Current History. I 


seem to recall that Hackett said that he had been 
discussing the government's publication plans with Elmer 
Davis and recruiting. Davis had suggested that I be 
brought in. Hackett had known me and called me. We spoke 
about it, and in particular he told me about the concept of 
a new magazine, USA. It was to be printed on lightweight 
stock, Bible paper almost. A quality magazine but almost a 
miniature, so that it could be dropped from the air. 
BASIAGO: I was wondering about that. 

COUSINS: Millions of copies coming down like cornflakes 
out of the sky. We were to have a first-rate art 
department with Brad [Bradbury] Thompson. After I accepted 
the post, we worked on the format. I really thought that 
it was a gem, like a beautifully made Swiss watch-- 
distinctive, without seeming to be elegant, accessible to 
the eye, uncluttered. The writing was to be the same, very 
straightforward, informative, and nonpropagandistic. 
BASIAGO: I noticed that this was a time when the-- 
COUSINS: Did you see different copies? 

BASIAGO: I read through several issues. I noticed that 
this was a time when things as practical as surrender 
passes were being dropped among enemy troops, passes of 
safe conduct, and that sort of thing. Yet this seemed 
highly idealistic. I was wondering, was there an actual 
belief that it would sway the values or present a different 


world view to the population? Who was it intended for? 
The soldier, the citizen? 

COUSINS: Both. Everyone was involved. This was an 
attempt to show that the United States had a history of 
democratic values, that we were not vindictive as a nation, 
that we were interested in getting on with the work of the 
world and believed in the possibilities of progress. I 
found it very congenial in terms of my own philosophy. We 
could in USA write about Emerson and William James and the 
transcendentalists. We had no limitations. We weren't 
called upon to try to advertise or propagandize. We could 
roam across the full face of American history, 
institutions, and values. It was an interesting challenge 
in terms of what did this country really mean to us--to the 
editors. The fact that it could be propaganda free, that 
it could deal with issues going back 50 years or 150 
years. The fact that we could talk about American writers, 
artists, musicians, and about aspirations and also about 
our flaws. It was an interesting challenge, it seems to 
me, and I enjoyed it. 

BASIAGO: I'd like to go back to the foundation of the 
Office of War Information and get any insights that you 
have. I know that you were drafted to serve with it in 
1942. Its founding went back to the year earlier, 1941. 
Here's some background. FDR [Franklin D. Roosevelt] had 


appointed William [J.] Donovan to head what was then called 
the Office of the Coordinator of Information. A month 
later Robert [E.] Sherwood was appointed to head of the 
Foreign Information Service. Various individuals joined 
them--men like James P. Warburg, Joseph [F.] Barnes, John 
Houseman, Thornton Wilder, and Stephen Vincent Benet . Was 
this the team that became influential, or was there another 
phase of development there? 

COUSINS: That was, I think, the first wave. It was more, 
it seems to me, philosophical than operational, with the 
exception of persons like Joe Barnes. But Bob Sherwood had 
worked directly with President Roosevelt. Warburg didn't 
have much journalistic experience, but he was very 
knowledgeable in the field of foreign affairs. These men, 
the ones you mentioned, are perhaps more in the nature of 
brain trusters than engineers. They were concerned with 
policy. We were concerned with the product. 
BASIAGO: In what ways did they express their policy? I 
know there was a debate among Donovan on one side and 
Robert Sherwood and Archibald MacLeish on the other about 
the direction propaganda should take. Do you recall any of 
the squabbles over that? 

COUSINS: I was not involved in that, and I don't have any 
keen recollection of it. Just in terms of my knowledge of 
the men themselves: I never knew Donovan, met him once or 


twice; but Archibald MacLeish and Bob Sherwood were very 
good friends. They had a very keen sense of American 
history. It was almost lyrical. They were not interested 
in dirty tricks. They were not interested in propaganda. 
They were just interested in perhaps adding to the world a 
view of the United States that was fairly well formed in 
terms of our history or at least our values. I think they 
wanted to strengthen it. I don't think they were particu- 
larly interested in getting down into the gutter and having 
a struggle that would involve the human windpipe. MacLeish 
was a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet. So was Stephen Vincent 
Benet. Bob Sherwood-- We had at that time a Writers War 
Board, and they were involved in that too as I was. 

Other members of the Writers War Board [later Writers 
Board for World Government] would include Rex [T.] Stout, 
Clifton Fadiman, Howard Lindsay, and Russel Grouse, the play- 
wrights. They were available to write copy for different 
agencies of government involved in the war effort. We tapped 
some of them for the work on USA. My impression at this 
remove about the difference between Donovan and MacLeish and 
Sherwood was that it fell well within the range of differ- 
ences that one might expect in anything involving interpreta- 
tion, both of American history and world crisis, and how best 
to deal with it in terms of what we might say to the world. 
It was interesting, but I'm not sure how critical it was. 


BASIAGO: There was a lot of talk of how Donovan tried to 

steer the OWI toward essentially deceptive propaganda, 

dirty tricks, if you will. Do you remember any specific 

instances where there was a showdown between the two 


COUSINS: When did Elmer Davis come on? 

BASIAGO: Elmer Davis was appointed June 13, 1942. You 

praised the fundamental clarity of his thinking in a 

Saturday Review of Literature editorial. 

COUSINS: That was just before I came on, too. I didn't 

realize it was that close. 

BASIAGO: I was wondering whether you were just praising 

someone you respected very much as a journalist, linguist, 

and historian, or were you already intellectually concerned 

about what direction the OWI would take? 

COUSINS: That had nothing to do with the OWI. It had only 

to do with Davis. 

BASIAGO: Since we're on Davis, he had himself recommended 

Edward R. Murrow, Bill [William L.] Shirer, or Rex Stout 

for the job, and didn't feel he was qualified. But FDR 

asked for that radio commentator "with the funny voice, 

Elmer something." He was later criticized by a few for, 

while being a profound historian, lacking administrative 

ability to marshal the forces at OWI. How do you feel 

about his performance? Were you satisfied? 


COUSINS: If you were going to mount such an organization, 
the man you would look for would not be primarily an 
administrator. It would be someone who had a very keen 
understanding of the underlying problem and whose view of 
American history gave you confidence that the message he 
would bring to the peoples of the world would be both 
creative and useful. And it was true with Elmer. He was 
not, never was primarily an administrator. But he got good 
administrators to work with him. It's the same as the 
presidency of the United States. We're lucky if we have a 
good administrator. 

BASIAGO: Do you favor one or the other, administrator 
versus a lyricist? 

COUSINS: It's easier to get an administrator than it is 
to get someone with ideas and a rounded philosophy. But 
OWI was a far-flung operation, had many parts to it. 
Elmer did bring in some good administrators. I think he 
brought in Lou [Louis G.] Cowan and John Hackett and Sam 

BASIAGO: In John Hackett, are we discussing the individual 
who went on to write several works of speculative military 
history. The Third World War, August 1985? 
COUSINS: I don't think Hackett did a work in military 
history. Hackett was a first-rate editor. We were all 
really amateurs at the game. We were not professional 


propagandists. There's a big contrast between World War I, 

when you had men like Edward [L.] Bernays. I'm trying to 

think of the-- 

BASIAGO: The director. 

COUSINS: He was the assistant director. The key man in 

World War I was-- 

BASIAGO: George Creel was the director, I know. 

COUSINS: That's right. When we met around the table at 

the OWI, we would have a lot of amateurs. We had no 

professional propagandists. The discussions would have to 

do with what the basic situation was that had to be 

interpreted and how we would go about interpreting it and 

how we would break it down in terms of media- -what we'd say 

in print, what we'd try to say over the air that the radio 

division of course of the OWI-- I'm not sure whether Lou 

Cowan was the head of that or not. 

BASIAGO: What office were you posted at? Was it the New 

York or the Washington? 

COUSINS: New York. We were in the Fisk Building. 

BASIAGO: I've learned that the New York office developed 

somewhat of a reputation for its independence. How did 

that happen? You mentioned this group of essentially 


COUSINS: It was a reflection, it seems to me, of what was 

perhaps an occupational disease, which is that writers and 


editors like to have as much scope as possible and tend to 
resist outside control . I remember very few sessions when 
the chairman at the table would say, "This is what 
Washington wants. This is how we think we ought to do 
it." Harold [K.] Guinzburg was chairman of the editorial 
committee at one time. John Hackett another time. I was 
chairman at a later time. We had a great deal of indepen- 
dence, in terms of our evaluation of the situation, how we 
might best do our job. I had no doubt that Washington 
resented the independence of those in the Fisk Building. 
BASIAGO: Did it involve at all a rebellion against various 
forms of prior restraint? I'm wondering to what extent 
that independence was exercised. 

COUSINS: We had no feeling of restraint. At least, I 

BASIAGO: As members of OWI stationed in Europe began to 
learn about such things as the Nazi atrocities, the death 
camps, etc. , were there any attempts among this independent 
group of professional writers to broadcast things the 
military might have been wishing were not broadcast? 
COUSINS: Yes, what we learned we tried to process 
intelligently. But my part of the job was not to deal with 
things on a day-by-day basis but to deal with the 
projection of the United States and its history and its 
culture. Physically, your deadlines were similar to those 


of regular magazines, which is to say you had to go through 
the planning of an issue, the dummying of an issue, the 
production of an issue, and the distribution. You're 
talking about a three-month lead time between conception 
and delivery. So that necessarily we couldn't deal with 
day-by-day events nor try to capitalize on what happened 
yesterday or the day before yesterday. That was more the 
job of the radio, informing the world about the 

BASIAGO: Let's dwell some more on what were USA's 
particular accomplishments. You mentioned in earlier 
interviews how as the war loomed you were concerned as much 
about the destruction of values as much as mere physical 
destruction. It seems that what you're saying is USA 
became something of a repository and a broadcaster of those 
cultural values that you and others wished preserved. You 
mentioned as a magazine what a gem it was. Were there any 
particular issues or articles or contributions that you 
thought were particularly apt in the projection of American 

COUSINS: Yes, I think that the feeling about the country 
that was reflected in the kinds of articles that we might 
get from Sherwood or Archie MacLeish or Steve Benet, or 
Bill [William Rose] Benet, or Henry Steele Commager or 
Allan Nevins. The objective but deeply perceptive quality 


of the historical materials that we wrote, the pieces about 
American art and literature which could have appeared in 
the Atlantic Monthly or Sat Review or Harper's [Monthly], 
the quality of the writing. All these seemed to me to add 
to the joy of editing the magazine. I had fairly strong 
ideas about how articles ought to be processed. I felt 
that the ideas ought to come off of a spool very evenly 
without any lumps in the thread or without any breaks; and 
that people--the reader--ought to know exactly what he was 
getting into. There should be no tricks in writing. I 
felt then that the best approach would be to describe the 
article in the opening sentence, "This is a story of, " or 
"This is about, " or "This is what happened when, " and that 
it should be extremely very straightforward, very clear 
throughout. It ought to be free of literary tricks or 
clouded metaphors or strained images, and that's how it was 

BASIAGO: Sherwood had been injured as a soldier in World 
War I, I understand, and had very profound antiwar views, 
yet he would embrace Lincoln's example as the war 
progressed, the necessity to fight. He seems to some 
degree a person who must have been experiencing some great 
turmoil during that period. How did you view him? 
COUSINS: I got to know about Sherwood more after his death 
than while he was alive--largely as a result of the fact 


that I was asked to continue or bring to completion the 
biography of Sherwood by John Mason Brown. Sherwood had 
been antiwar through the twenties and thirties, heavily 
antiwar. He knew about--as most of the intellectuals of 
the time did--The Merchants of Death: [A Study of the 
International Armament Industry] , which was the title of 
the book that [Frank C] Hanighen and [Helmuth C] 
Engelbrecht wrote about how World War I began. He 
recognized the futility of war. But little by little, 
under the impact of nazism, and then very swiftly as the 
world moved towards war in the late thirties and finally 
into war, he recognized that disarmament by itself could 
not make peace. He recognized too that we had perhaps done 
a disservice to the United States by making the antiwar 
arguments seemingly absolute without respect to 
circumstances under which people might have to fight. 

The change in Sherwood, as in many others, was very 
deep. He had a commitment to winning the war. I guess he 
recognized that all of our history was at stake but also a 
great deal of our values that preceded our history. He was 
passionately caught up in it, as many of us were at the 
time. He reflected this consuming passion and drive in the 
various meetings that we had. He saw no reason to 
apologize for his passion, nor did he feel that his earlier 
views concerning war itself should dictate the course of 


his life just to prove that he was consistent. 
BASIAGO: I've learned how insistent MacLeish and Sherwood 
were on the idea, the directive that your effort- -not you 
in particular, but the OWI ' s ef forts--would bear as little 
resemblance as possible to those propaganda efforts of the 
fascists, such as [Josef] Goebbels's operation in which 
there were constant appeals to the instincts and the 
emotions and not the rational processes. Yet at the same 
time you were working for or with an administration in a 
military establishment that had to win the war in a 
practical way and had various information to protect. Was 
there a contest, what kind of contest was there between--? 
COUSINS: I don't think so. We would receive each day 
copies of memoranda or communiques coming from military or 
concerning the military. But we regarded--at least in our 
division, the editorial division--this as being more 
relevant for the radio section of the OWI than for the 
publication section where our job was to deal with long- 
term situations and aspirations. We assiduously stayed 
away from what might be termed "selling" of the United 
States. It was more a matter of reflecting the United 
States than selling it. And we hoped that the integrity of 
purpose would be so recognized by the people who read it. 
I think people tend to know when they ' re being 
propagandized . 


One of my jobs at the OWI was to monitor the texts of 
the Axis radio, and everyday I would receive translations 
of propaganda against us. For example, I would see the 
text of the broadcasts by Ezra Pound, his fulminations 
against the United States, his contempt for American 
institutions, his blatant anti-Semitism. Having been 
exposed to that day after day, when at the end of war they 
wanted to give the Bollingen award [Bollingen Prize in 
Poetry] to Ezra Pound, I opposed it in the Saturday 
Review. I was accused of blocking a literary award on 
political grounds, but it seemed to me that what was 
happening was that on political grounds they were trying to 
rehabilitate Pound and use this award as the means of 
reestablishing his position in American letters or at least 
to give him greater acceptance. Pound's friends, of 
course-- Whether or not they knew what the man had been up 
to or not I have no way of knowing, but the fact of the 
matter was that it seemed to me to be a purely political 
move . 

At the same time, I thought it was important to make a 
distinction between a private award and a public award. If 
this had just been awarded by Yale University, I would have 
had no objection to it. But if it was to carry the seal of 
the United States, which it did through Library of 
Congress, then all the other questions would come up which 


would say his crass and gross anti-Americanism, his 
vehement denunciations of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 
viciousness of it. I remember him calling him, "That Jew, 
Rosenfelt." So, as I say, anyone listening to or reading 
the texts of those broadcasts day after day would have been 
appalled at the notion that the United States would give 
him this honor. But Pound's friends-- A lot of them came 
by way of [T. S.] Eliot and thought that they would 
rehabilitate him this way. He would have been imprisoned 
as a traitor if it weren't for the fact they had this 
device of committing him to Saint Elizabeth's Hospital for 
mental illness. But, too, if the man had been mentally 
ill, his poetry reflected that. That did not seem to me to 
be an adequate basis for an award. 

BASIAGO: You mentioned this all came about through one of 
your other tasks, which was listening to the broadcasts 
while editing USA. Were there other tasks that you had? 
Significant research, military tasks? 

COUSINS: No, I don't think so. Elmer Davis would come to 
New York. We'd have lunches together at the Algonquin 
[Hotel] and talk both about the overall problem and about 
the specific aspects of OWI activities for the publications 
or otherwise. I enjoyed those meetings with Davis. 
BASIAGO: You mentioned your disgust with Pound, and of 
course I've mentioned how MacLeish and Sherwood were so 


dedicated to providing an alternative to the fascist 
version of seeing things. How did this translate into day- 
to-day issues? For instance, I've learned that Davis 
thought the military services were unnecessarily hiding 
their losses and urged a more truthful policy. What was 
the impact of--? 

COUSINS: Well, you've got to make again a distinction 
between how we handle the news and how we handle our 
history and our culture. Davis, as a first-rate 
journalist, saw no reason as I remember it to fabricate. 
He felt that we could gain credibility if we disclosed 
everything, including our losses. The military, however, 
which had to take into account not just the impact of the 
news on others but what the effect of that news might be in 
their own positions, were very eager to proclaim their 
successes and conceal their losses. Not surprising. The 
syndrome continues to this day. 
BASIAGO: As in? 

COUSINS: Iran-Contras, where we try to hide our 

BASIAGO: Do you think it continued into Vietnam with--? 
COUSINS: Oh, yes. I think it's a nationalist syndrome. 
BASIAGO: I understand that during the entire course of the 
Vietnam War there was only one American battlefield death 
broadcast on American television. What was the impact of 


the way the military and the OWI had to collaborate? What 
was the ultimate impact upon the media? 

COUSINS: Again, I'm just giving my impression at this 
distance. I think there was pretty much of a wall of 
separation between the two. We took no direction from the 
military. We received the bulletins. We read the news and 
the wire services and had complete freedom in what our 
approach would be to that. But again, we had the luxury of 
a three-month deadline, so we could deal with long-term 
aspects of issues, rather than with the need to explain 
away what happened yesterday. 

BASIAGO: I guess the sources I'm referring to must relate 
to other individuals within the OWI, because I've read much 
of the disputes between OWI and congressmen, military 
officials, even various members of FDR's administration, 
over the direction OWI's efforts would take. So you 
weren't privy to much of that? 

COUSINS: I don't know. I don't know. I would get all the 
bulletins, and I'd be informed. I'd have discussions with 
Davis. We had our own editorial meetings where we 
discussed problems. But my dominant impression is that we 
were not instructed about the past and didn't have to 
concern ourselves about the present, which was a news 
operation problem. So we perhaps had the best of both 


BASIAGO: A few other significant individuals in the 
hierarchy-- Below Davis, actually next to him in the 
organization chart, we find Milton [S.] Eisenhower. What 
was the future president's brother's role in the 

COUSINS: Yes, he was an educator- -very enlightened, very 
progressive, and very supportive. I got to know him on a 
number of different levels. 

BASIAGO: Another individual you mentioned in an earlier 
session, somewhat below MacLeish but next to Sherwood-- 
Sherwood was head of the overseas branch, Gardner "Mike" 
Cowles [Jr.], head of the domestic branch. You mentioned 
somewhat your relationship with Cowles. How did it 
progress as the war progressed? 

COUSINS: It's so interesting to think back now on all 
these names. It was almost a community that included the 
Writers War Board, the key people in the OWI , the key 
people in broadcasting outside government, like Sherwood. 
Without having any single source for a point of view or a 
party line, we all had a similarity of outlook with respect 
to the war. It was I think best expressed by--or reflected 
in- -Sherwood ' s own thinking. It was shaped largely by the 
awareness of implications of nazism and what was at 
stake. That awareness produced a very keen appreciation of 
our own history and brought us back to Walt Whitman, Tom 


Paine, Jefferson, and writers who would be dismissed as 
sentimentalists, Paine, Jefferson, Emerson, and [William 
Lloyd] Garrison suddenly became key figures in American 
history and were reclaimed as a result of that 
experience. There was a tendency in the 1930s to favor the 
debunking of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, for 
example--and Jefferson. And then, suddenly, we discarded 
all that debunking and rediscovered the fundamental values 
that are associated with Paine, Jefferson, Adams, 
Emerson. Emerson had been regarded in the 1930s as rather 
pallid, sort of an uptown Elbert Hubbard. One of the good 
things that came out of the war was an unabashed 
appreciation for such writers and thinkers. You recall 
that we had two or three biographies of Walt Whitman at 
that time. One by Newton Arvin, as I remember it. We had 
new biographies of Paine. Jefferson was the subject of 
four or five different studies. Dumas Malone was engaged 
in a multivolume study on Jefferson. It was a time of 
rediscovery and renewed appreciation. It felt rather 


OCTOBER 20, 1987 

BASIAGO: I found something from your files from 1944 from 
your publicist that suggested you were planning a biography 
yourself on Tom Paine or assembling materials on the 
founding fathers. Did that project related to the founding 
fathers start during this period? 

COUSINS: It started when I was on USA, when I told the 
staff that we were going to try to deal with some of the 
key thinkers in American history. I was fascinated with 
it. I was fascinated with all the contradictions in Paine, 
especially interested in his involvement in the French 
Revolution and how he discovered that it ' s what happens in 
the counterrevolution that ultimately determines a large 
part of history. Paine was caught up in that great 
undertow, and so he didn't prosper at the hands of the 

BASIAGO: How did this relate to the antifascist 
struggle? I understand you were already wondering about 
the postwar order? Who else was? You mentioned all these 
individuals. Were there other minds from history who were 
being reconsidered, in light of the way in which the new 
world would be formed after the war? 

COUSINS: Well, we're talking about two things now. We're 
talking about the reinterpretation of the American past-- 


the rediscovery of certain aspects of our culture that had 
been inadequately treated or mistreated. And now you raise 
the question about attempts to anticipate the problems-- 
philosophical, ideological, political--in the postwar 
world. One of the responses to that latter need was the 
recreation of the Writers War Board into a Writers Board 
for World Government. Also, a group in New York City that 
was interested in paving the way for American participation 
in world organization, in order to avoid the mistake we 
made after World War I when public opinion was not ready to 
join the League of Nations, even though [Woodrow] Wilson 
was its foremost champion. These two groups, the Writers 
War Board, which became the Writers Board for World 
Government, and Americans United for World Organization, 
which became Americans United for World Government, were 
specific responses to that. On the matter of congressional 
ratification of our membership in the United Nations, we 
helped organize and support trips across the United States 
by Senator [Joseph H.] Ball and [Harold H.] Burton--or 
[Carl A.] Hatch. 

BASIAGO: I believe it was Hatch. 

COUSINS: Hatch, to talk to the American people about 
importance of world organization. We were writing about 
that. We were no longer part of the government, but we had 
our own group. We enlarged it to the members I think I 


mentioned a moment ago. 

BASIAGO: I'd like to clarify this transition further. 

We've discussed it in past sessions. One thing I've 

uncovered that I think might be a bridge between these two 

periods is the long-range directives you received from 

OWI . The overseas branch was instructed in 1943 to 

maintain some of the following values. One was to convince 

the people of the world of the overall power and good faith 

of the USA. I find an interesting connection there to the 

way in which the [United] World Federalists were trying to 

essentially advance or mirror the early American 


COUSINS: Yes. Now if you would just repeat that first 

point, I'd like to comment on what the interpretation 


BASIAGO: I'd like to take these one at a time. 

COUSINS: Can you repeat that first point? 

BASIAGO: The first objective was to convince the people of 

the world of the-- 

COUSINS: --overwhelming power- - 

BASIAGO: --and the incontestable good faith of the USA. 

COUSINS: I'm trying to think my way back into the period 

close to the end of the war when we were trying to bring 

the war to an end. Some people might read that and think 


in terms of sheer military power. We were never concerned, 
either in USA or Victory magazine--which is a sort of Life- 
sized picture book--with the projection of American power 
in military terms. We were concerned about the projection 
of America in terms of the capacity of the American people 
to make cormnitments-- far-reaching commitments- -and to carry 
them out. The power that came out of our education, our 
capacity to help the world industrially. Our understanding 
of what was meant by a decent future for the world ' s 
peoples. That was and would have been our interpretation 
of what was meant by American power. As for the matter of 
good will, this was nothing that you advertised. We 
couldn't say, "We have good will towards you." That's not 
what we do. We talked about our institutions and our 
history. Here I think Bob Sherwood was right about the 
fact that you don't proclaim your goodness, you get people 
to know you and they make their own judgments. 
BASIAGO: The second objective was to demonstrate to the 
people of other countries the unshakeable determination of 
the American people to win the war and to assume its full 
share of the burdens and responsibilities for making and 
maintaining a just and lasting peace. How did this 
particular plank evolve? 
COUSINS: Again, I'm going to try to think my way into that 


situation, because I have no original memory of that. I 
think that what I said before would be consistent with my 
reaction to this question, which is to divide that 
directive between the particular and the general. The 
general approach would follow along the lines I referred to 
in the previous question. The particular would be affected 
by chronology. We couldn't refer to things that happened 
last week. But we would try to talk about the kind of man 
President Roosevelt was, the kind of woman that Eleanor 
Roosevelt was, with specific examples so that the people 
wouldn't think that we were synthesizing. Those kinds of 
things that were not subject to political divisiveness in 
the United States. And to create a background for the 
evaluation of day-by-day events. I think that, since I 
know that that was what our interpretation was for our 
mission, it certainly would apply to that second point. 
BASIAGO: I find the last two directives particularly 
prescient, even prophetic, of what would happen. I guess 
what I'm trying to delineate is the way in which visions of 
a "One World" would progress. Then we'd have the atomic 
bomb and how those would change or evolve under the 
pressure of atomic weaponry. The last two are showing 
solidarity for the members of the United Nations, bonds 
which would outlast the war, and also to establish or 
demonstrate to the peoples of other countries that the U.S. 


wasn't fighting just to establish the old order but 
anticipated a new order. 

COUSINS: And also that we were not going to turn our backs 
on the rest of the world when the war was over. There's an 
interesting, as I recall it, philosophical but very natural 
and very friendly difference of opinion between Elmer Davis 
and Bob Sherwood on the question you mentioned of "One 
World." That was the term that came out of [Wendell L.] 
Willkie's book. But the concept, if not the term, was very 
real in the minds of many people at that time. Davis was 
perhaps more pragmatic than Sherwood, Warburg, Steve Benet 
and the others. He felt that the world had been completely 
transformed as a result of the war and that even without 
respect to nuclear weapons that the ability to destroy had 
reached a point where it became necessary to think of a 
far-reaching design that would do two things. One, provide 
an adequate basis for security; the other, provide for the 
conditions of progress. 

BASIAGO: I know that Robert Sherwood and Rex Stout would 
become quite active in world government. 
COUSINS: World government, that's right. 

BASIAGO: Who else was prominent, and who begged off after 
the war? 

COUSINS: Davis went another direction, but most of them-- 
BASIAGO: Why did Davis leave the movement, if you will? 


COUSINS: Well, Davis seemed to feel that by trying to move 
too soon, too fast--I mean too soon and too far--that we 
would lose more than we would gain. Also, Davis felt that 
the Soviet Union was an emerging force and that we weren't 
sufficiently aware of the dimensions of that problem, 
BASIAGO: How about Archibald MacLeish? Did he remain 

COUSINS: Yes. Very interesting group. Laura [Z.] Hobson, 
in her autobiography--in the last volume of the 
autobiography, which was published posthumously--deals with 
aspects of the Writers War Board and later the Writers 
[Board] for World Government. You might want to consult 
that, because she had taken notes at the time on a great 
deal in the history of the group, and certainly a great 
deal about Rex Stout. 

BASIAGO: I'm intrigued by members of OWI who might not 
look back as fondly as you do to those years. I know a 
number resigned angrily. In 1943, Henry [F.] Pringle, 
Francis Brennan, and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. , resigned, 
saying that the activities of OWI on the home front are now 
dominated by high-pressure promoters who prefer slick 
salesmanship to honest information. Bruce Cat ton reported 
a steady absorption by OWI of sales promotion ideas and 
techniques. Bernard [A.] De Voto complained that it's 
cynical for American leaders to make speeches about the 


basic freedoms of our way of life, having a press among 
them, and then permit the army and navy to prevent OWI from 
serving the function assigned to it. Do you recall any ill 
will among this group? How they might have developed these 

COUSINS: You're talking about 1943? 

BASIAGO: The resignation of this group, or at least 
Pringle, Brennan, and Arthur Schlesinger, came-- 
COUSINS: Francis Brennan was an artist, as I remember, and 
a very good one. He'd been the art director of Time, Inc. 
and also an idea man. Henry Pringle was the historian. 
Arthur Schlesinger was then maybe twenty-two or twenty- 
three years old. But I'm not sure that they were involved 
in the actual products of OWI . Maybe they were on some 
advisory aspect of writers, but I don't recall that that 
quake--if it was a quake--shook up USA any. I was then 
editing USA, and we continued on our course. Davis was 
committed to an independent approach, both in terms of 
organization and in terms of presentation of the news or in 
interpretation of American history. Archie MacLeish, who 
as I say was very close to the president as well, could 
hardly be called a tool of the military. The military had 
their own journals with respect to the armed forces, and 
that was their business. So at this distance, I'm not sure 
they understand exactly what the detailed differences might 


have been. Do you have any idea what those detailed 
differences might be? 

BASIAGO: I just suspect that they felt that the operation, 
particularly out of New York, was becoming too heavily 
influenced by advertising men. They feared a return to the 
days of [George] Creel and some of the distortions that 
developed during World War I . 

COUSINS: Well, they were probably complaining about Cowan, 
but I'm not sure who some of the other advertising men 
were . Do you have any names there? 
BASIAGO: No, I don't. 

COUSINS: As I said earlier, one day when I came to my 
office, I saw a man sitting at a desk not far from the 
receptionist's desk--rather elderly, rather diminutive, 
green eyeshade, garters on his sleeve. After a while, I 
learned that Archie MacLeish had spoken to Bob Sherwood 
about him, and Sherwood gave him a job at the OWI . I think 
Harold Guinzburg had him doing clippings. When I looked 
into this, I discovered he had been the right-hand man to 
George Creel during World War I. His name was [Edgar G.] 
Sisson. I had known about the Sisson papers from World War 
I [One Hiandred Red Days; A Personal Chronicle of the 
Bolshevik Revolution] , He was the author of the Sisson 
papers, had taken trips, and he was involved in the 
Arkhangel ' sk expedition in the Soviet Union. He was very 


quiet. I took him out to lunch and found him a fount of 
information, good newspaper man, aware of all the mistakes 
of the committee of information under Creel. I gave him a 
job on USA, and he turned out to be very valuable. Another 
man was John [C] Farrar. He was floating around, not 
doing very much. I invited him to be an editor on USA. He 
was the Farrar of Farrar and Rinehart [Inc.]. He had been 
thrown out of his own firm, after falling out with [Stanley 
M.] Rinehart. His wife said that that saved his life. 

Gosh, now that you've opened up some of these sluices 
of memory, I see Edgar Sisson very vividly sitting at that 
old desk. In the hierarchy of the OWI--or any 
organization, I suppose- -you start at the top with a corner 
office, a one-man office, with your own water cooler and 
your own John. That's at the very top. Then you go to the 
offices next to that--how close are you to the corner 
office, how many windows do you have, how many desks are 
there in your office? Do you have an outer office with a 
secretary? All these things. Finally, when you go to the 
end of the line, you have someone sitting out in the 
hallway next to the receptionist. And this is where Sisson 
sat, this man who was number two in World War I 
information. I found his advice very, very useful in the 
editing of USA. 
BASIAGO: You mentioned the Arkhangel ' sk expedition. I'm 


drawing a blank there. What was the significance of the 
Sisson papers and the Arkhangel ' sk expedition? 
COUSINS: I couple the two only in terms of the fact that 
he was connected with both. Whether there was an organic 
connection between the two, I don't remember at this 
distance, but the United States at the time of the Russian 
revolution went into Russia. If I'm not mistaken, we had 
the notion that we might be able to block or influence the 
course of the revolution. The Sisson papers had a great 
deal to do with the relationship of the United States to 
the revolution--what we did. You may find this of interest 
when you look it up, although I'm not sure that what is in 
the history books reflects as accurately as it should the 
full story. We also had at that time a mercy mission that 
canceled out a great deal of the harm that had been caused 
by the Arkhangel ' sk expedition. This was the [Herbert C] 
Hoover project [Russian Relief Administration] , mercy 
project, where we helped to feed the Russian people at that 
particular time. This is still remembered by many Russian 
people today in terms of their friendship with the United 

Sisson resisted--or urged me to resist--attempts to 
make USA into a propagandist journal. He thought we were 
very wise in putting out a magazine that people would enjoy 
reading, which would give them a feeling of what the United 


states was all about, rather than try to make claims that 
might or might not be accepted. 

BASIAGO: One thing I find interesting is some of the 
pressure that Davis received. For some reason he urged the 
president to reorganize drastically the OWI in 1943, 
changing its name, even its director, and its assigned 
functions. Otherwise, its enemies and FDR's were likely to 
cripple it or even destroy it. Were there any prominent 
enemies of the Office of War Information that you can 

COUSINS: Only in Congress--as I remember it--of any 
consequence, where the old question of liberalism would 
come up and whether we're trying to get across a view of 
America that suited particular fancies rather than the 
fancies of our critics. But that was part of the game. 
After the war--maybe it wasn't after the war--you had 
attempts to restrict the books that American soldiers would 
have access to. Here they found some astounding things: 
that even a biography of Oliver Wendell Holmes would have 
been regarded as subversive. I found an ally in Robert 
[A.] Taft, who at a critical moment was able to shut off 
that nonsense. I had a very interesting relationship with 
Robert Taft. 

BASIAGO: I remember reading in one of the articles in the 
New York Times that he invited you up to Congress one 


day? Is that related to the same affair, or was that 
something different? 

COUSINS: He had been a reader of the Saturday Review, as 
had his wife, Martha [Bowers Taft] . I'd been very friendly 
with Charles [P.] Taft, who I think was also involved in 
the war effort in the OWI in some way. But Taft and I had 
this very interesting relationship that lasted until his 
death. He was very pragmatic, conservative in the best 
sense, but was open-minded. When I proved to him, for 
example, that the attempt was being made to reorganize the 
library services along very narrow lines--I could give him 
the evidence--he stood up for library services on the floor 
of Congress and in the appropriations bill was the most 
influential man, seeing that appropriation went through. 
This is my memory. 

BASIAGO: I'd like to ask you two related questions in 
closing. One, what you think the ultimate impact of the 
Office of War Information's view of the world and of the 
United States was? And, two, what was the ultimate impact 
of those years at OWI for your career and development? 
Some have said that the OWI sponsored a particular image of 
the United States as mighty, dedicated, and wholesome. It 
had convinced the world that somehow the United States did 
have the best interest of all mankind at heart. What do 
you think its actual impact was? 


COUSINS: I don't think there's any way of assessing what 
impact it will have or even had at the time. There's no 
way of measuring public opinion on the issue. The 
magazines would be distributed in a variety of ways. You 
could only hope that they would catch on. My own guess is 
that the person of FDR was far more important in projecting 
a view of America than the millions of publications we put 
out--not just magazines but issue papers, handbooks, even 
paperback books. The president's own speeches, his 
genuineness, his lack of artifice as people saw it, the 
fact that he seemed to symbolize the prospects of a decent 
future for the human species, not just for Americans. This 
I think counted far more heavily around the world than 
everything we did in all the years of the OWI or any other 
special effort. That legacy continued to be an asset for 
the United States even after his death, long after FDR's 
death. He died in '45, before the end of the war, but the 
view of the United States symbolized by Roosevelt 
continued. Then it was given additional substance in terms 
of our economic program, the Marshall Plan, in Europe after 
the end of the war and the rebuilding. 

I felt that Americans could feel that the absence of 
cynicism in the way we spoke about the United States, our 
recognition of the best in our history, were factors along 
with the Marshall Plan in what the world thought of us. 


But I don't think we overestimated the particularized role 
of what we were doing, whether with respect to USA or 

We were undergirding, we were lending additional 
substance to viewpoints which I think had been created as a 
result of what people knew or felt about our history, and 
most of all by the person of FDR. I'm amazed at the way 
FDR's whole place in the twentieth century has receded from 
public awareness and how little the present generation 
knows about FDR- -all the sentimental attachment to him by 
most Americans- -even by Americans who disagreed with him 
politically. Today we tend to be rather cynical about 
leadership and perhaps for good reason. But I think it's 
useful to be reminded that in the lifetimes of many now 
still alive we not only respected but had the deepest 
feelings of affection and trust for the man who was the 
president of the United States. It would be difficult for 
anyone who didn't live through the experience to understand 
the love that the American people had for that man and not 
capriciously so--it was well earned. That feeling was 
shared by peoples around the world and made the job of the 
OWI much easier than it would have been. We had as a 
leader a symbol of what we're talking about, an active 
symbol . 
BASIAGO: Also in retrospect, I know it's often hard to 


assess, but what did you leave OWI with as a writer that 
you didn't enter it with? In what ways did it shape your 
particular public voice as your writing evolved? 
COUSINS: I don't know, because what I was thinking and 
writing went into OWI and to other things and didn't come 
out of it. I had, to be sure, an increased sense of the 
destructive nature of war as a result of my connection with 
OWI, not just because I would see all the photographs as 
they came through everyday of the war, but because of the 
sense I had of the role of science in destructive 
warfare. That was certainly underlined by my connection 
with the OWI. I remember having discussions with other 
people in the OWI about the long-term implications of the 
new weapons. Other than getting an interior view of the 
war, I'm not sure that it contributed much that was not 
available to me through other means. It was part of my 
growth. Like Sherwood, I had a sense of passionate 
commitment to the underlying issues, and I didn't need 
anyone in the OWI to tell me how to delineate them or how 
to present them, nor did they try. 


NOVEMBER 2, 1987 

BASIAGO: Today, I'd like to explore the atomic bombings of 
Hiroshima and Nagasaki and contrast your perceptions at the 
time of the bombing with the scenario that you paint in The 
Pathology of Power regarding [Harry S] Truman's decision to 
drop the bomb and other issues. At the time of the blasts, 
you'd just been attached to the Office of War Information 
[OWI], Did you have any awareness that we were developing 
such a weapon? 

COUSINS: No. There were some indications that new weapons 
were being developed, and we were certainly aware of the 
fact that leading scientists were working with the 
government to do this. But I had no specific knowledge 
about the atomic weapon. It was a total surprise to me, as 
well as a shock. 

BASIAGO: Were you still in communication with individuals 
within the Office of War Information who were responsible 
for drafting some of the announcements to the Japanese and 
to the world about what had been developed and what it 
would mean? 

COUSINS: No one in the OWI had to my certain knowledge 
been involved in preparing materials. Such announcements 
as were made flowed out of the event itself, rather than 
the basis of advanced planning. I don't think there had 


been any advanced planning for that. 

BASIAGO: So you're suggesting the announcements they did 
make came down from the top, and they were just passing 
them along? 

COUSINS: That's right. 

BASIAGO: The two that I found, the only ones that I could 
find, were that the OWI was asked to instruct the Japanese 
that if they failed to accept the terms of the ultimatum of 
July 26, they may expect a rain of ruin from the air the 
like of which has never been seen on this earth. They were 
also asked to print a leaflet which would announce that we 
are in possession of the most destructive explosive ever 
devised by man. What I'm wondering is, if the OWI was so 
instructed, wouldn't this suggest that there was a rather 
realistic mind-set at the time that an invasion of Japan 
was an untenable option, that the losses of casualty in 
man-to-man fighting would be significant? In other words, 
doesn't this support the idea that Truman was attempting to 
intimidate the Japanese into surrender with the bomb? 
COUSINS: You're asking me to respond on the basis of what 
I thought at the time. I had no knowledge at the time of 
anything approximating an atomic weapon. The rain of fire 
that you speak of was I think explicit in the bombing of 
Tokyo, where we dropped more bombs than we had dropped on 
Germany. That could have been construed by the Japanese in 


that light. I see nothing in there that-- It is not 
quantitative. They'd already experienced air bombing. 
They knew exactly what it was. It was just a warning of an 
effect of much more, catastrophically more of the same. At 
least that would be the way I would have interpreted it at 
the time. 

BASIAGO: You're saying they wouldn't have been intimidated 
by warnings like this. 

COUSINS: No, I didn't say they wouldn't have been 
intimidated by it. They would have interpreted it as a 
vast step-up in what they had seen. Whether this would 
have impressed them as hoped was something else. But if I 
had seen it I might have treated it as more of the same, 
and maybe that's why I don't remember it. 
BASIAGO: There was an issue at the Office of War 
Information regarding how the war would be concluded. 
Apparently, some of the views might have been shared by 
members of the [Franklin D.] Roosevelt and then Truman 
administration. The specific issue was that the United 
States might have been-- That by insisting on a policy of 
unconditional surrender, the Japanese would be made more 
desperate and in fact increase their own casualty list. Do 
you recall this debate going on? 

COUSINS: No. In any event, I would not have been included 
in those discussions. I was operational rather than 



BASIAGO: It's apparent that with the advent of atomic 
weapons, a qualitative change in warfare had occurred. You 
apprehended this and constructed essays regarding how 
humanity should respond to this, really for decades. How 
and when did you reach the conclusion that Truman's 
decision wasn't based on any of the rationales that we have 
traditionally believed? I find in your book The Pathology 
of Power that you ultimately conclude that the bombing was 
done on the part of Truman and of Secretary of State [James 
F.] Byrnes to make the Russians more manageable after the 
war. What rationales were you assessing as credible? 
COUSINS: Let me answer your first question, which is when 
did I come to the conclusion that the bomb was a mistake? 
In fact, that's what you asked me. That would be at about 
7:30 in the morning of [August] 5 [1945], when I picked up 
the New York Times and saw the headline. That was when I 
came to that conclusion. I experienced no elation with 
that headline in the Times. I read the various stories in 
the New York Times that appeared in that connection- -the 
story by William [L.] Laurence, who was a reporter selected 
to do the basic story, and Truman's announcement. That 
afternoon I had to give a talk before some business group 
at the Waldorf-Astoria [Hotel]. I remember saying that I'd 
never known such sadness as I did at the time over the 


decision to drop that bomb on human beings, because even 
then it was apparent to me that they could have had a test 
demonstration of the bomb. It was not necessary to kill as 
many people. I felt there was something else that we 
weren't told. 

And then in subsequent days, the argument that it was 
dropped to spare the casualties of an invasion was even 
more ludicrous to me, since no such argument favored an 
invasion. I immediately pointed out the need to have a 
demonstration bombing. Then I had asked myself what were 
the factors in the demonstration bombing, to the people who 
made the decision that made a live bombing necessary. It 
could only be the time factor, that there would not have 
been enough time to carry out a demonstration. Then when 
the bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, that clinched the 
argument for me. Then I knew that we were racing against 
the clock . 

BASIAGO: How did you assess the Japanese as an enemy? For 
instance, the readings we get from history and journalistic 
accounts at the time stress the strength of the Yamato 
spirit, the aggressive nationalism, beliefs in national 
traits of superiority, almost a mystical reverence for the 
empire, and these things that might have led the Japanese 
to even suicidally press on. How can those forces be 


COUSINS: It was precisely because of that that it seemed 
to me that unless we kept the institution of the emperor, 
the Japanese would fight on irrationally. Truman made the 
great mistake of telling the joint chiefs that he would not 
negotiate with the Japanese about surrender, that he would 
not permit them to keep the emperor. He felt that American 
public opinion wouldn't support it. He didn't assess the 
role of the president in educating the American public 
opinion. And eventually he did accept the institution of 
the emperor. If he was right in accepting it then, why was 
he not wrong in refusing it earlier? How many people were 
killed in the meantime? The people in Hiroshima, the 
people in Nagasaki, the Americans. I think that 
historically, Truman, who has been regarded as a gutsy 
little man who was one of our better presidents, will 
eventually be recognized by historians as one of the most 
limited in terms of moral imagination and in terms of 
historical insight. 

BASIAGO: When did you decide upon the fact that he had 
erred in insisting upon unconditional surrender and 
essentially creating more casualties as a result? 
COUSINS: On 7:30 of the morning of [August] 6. As I say, 
when I got up to speak that afternoon before this business 
group, I said that I felt the decision to drop the bomb was 
perhaps the greatest single mistake in American history. I 


recognized that it was very unpopular at that time to say 

it, because it meant in the minds of many Americans that 

their boys would not have to take part in a possibly 

catastrophic invasion. There was elation that meant the 

end of the war was now at hand. I realized that. At the 

same time, I felt that it was not necessary to take those 


BASIAGO: Bearing in mind your critique of Truman's moral 

imagination, do you count for any of the factors that he 

was working under the time factor? 

COUSINS: From this vantage point in time, yes, I can 

account for some. 

BASIAGO: Such as--? 

COUSINS: His fear that if it became known that they had 

the means of ending the war by one day earlier than they 

did and he didn't utilize the means to end the war, that it 

would be a political liability. This was the argument, 

apparently, that he accepted, with or without prodding. 

That, I think, was primary. It was a political decision to 

drop the bomb, not really a military one. 

BASIAGO: Have you ever traced the source of the claim that 

five hundred thousand to a million American boys would have 

died in an invasion of Japan? 

COUSINS: When you say ever, you mean from this present 

vantage point? 


BASIAGO: Was there ever a point when you came upon a 
telling document suggesting that this was a fiction? 
COUSINS: I'd always believed it, and nothing that I had 
come across in my reading in the war diaries changed it. 
The diaries in books of [Dwight D.] Eisenhower and [William 
D.] Leahy years ago confirmed my view of it. The [James 
v.] Forrestal diaries were equally so. My conversations 
with [Douglas] MacArthur in Japan, which I reported in the 
book [The Pathology of Power] . So that from the very start 
I was on this path, and nothing that happened in subsequent 
years deterred me. 

The real impetus for writing that chapter in my book, 
however, came the night I did a broadcast from Hiroshima on 
Ted Koppel's "Nightline." This was on the fortieth 
anniversary of the bombing, when I was in Hiroshima for the 
ceremonies. You recall that the city had invited me to lay 
the wreath at the memorial on behalf of the victims. But 
that night, following the ceremonies-- Well, late that 
afternoon, I went to a studio in Hiroshima where they had a 
satellite hookup with the Ted Koppel show being broadcast 
live. Koppel's people had asked me to come on the show in 
connection with my earlier recollections of Hiroshima and 
about my feelings in meeting some of the people I had 
worked with in those early years, the Hiroshima Maidens 
Project, the Moral Adoptions Project, and so forth. 


To my great surprise, the program began with Koppel 
making the statement that on this anniversary we can all 
look back with great relief because of the hundreds of 
thousands of American lives that might have been lost in an 
invasion. And to my great surprise, for the next twenty 
minutes or more, they had a mock dramatization of the 
invasion, with simulated bulletins from the White House, 
and the difficulties in the landing in Kyushu, and then 
casualties mounted. Then, finally, after we'd secured the 
island at a loss of four hundred thousand lives, whatever, 
the announcer said all this was spared because of Truman's 
decision to drop the bomb. 

I was enraged. I didn't know, as a matter of fact, 
who had prepared this. Let me say parenthetically, since 
that time, when I read about programs being planted by the 
CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] or the State Department, 
that doesn't ease my mind at all about what happened and 
how this program was utilized to spread a falsehood. I 
spoke from Hiroshima. Dean Rusk spoke from Atlanta, 
Georgia, where he was at the time. Dean Rusk completely 
supported that notion. I had had, by this time, seen 
documents prepared by the joint chiefs of staff with 
respect to what the casualties would be, but also their 
conclusion was that the invasion was not necessary. But my 
experience that night stepped up, turned up the heat inside 


me on this issue, so that I completely rewrote my chapter 
in The Pathology of Power, pushed it forward in the book, 
and then did the additional research, including Truman's 
diary, which I hadn't seen beforehand. That diary 
definitively established the fact that Truman knew an 
invasion would not be necessary. 

BASIAGO: Regarding the diary, I imagine you're speaking of 
Truman's entry at Potsdam [Conference] in July, '45. He 
made a reference. I paraphrase, the moment the Russians 
turn up on the battlef ield-- 
COUSINS: "Finis Japs." 

BASIAGO: Yeah, "Finis the Japs." How did you decide upon 
your interpretation of what he meant? To me, it's this 
rather abstract Latin reference here, for which there are 
probably a number of interpretations of what he meant by 
"Finis the Japs." Could he have meant that's the time when 
we should finis the Japs, because it will be a one- two 

COUSINS: No. It meant that--if you read the rest of the 
diary--the Japs wouldn't even turn up on the battlefield 
the next day. This would produce the collapse by itself. 
You see, once we had the bomb, thinking about getting the 
Soviet Union involved changed drastically at Potsdam. So 
much so that Stalin became aware of it and put the question 
to Truman, "Do you still want us to come in?" Truman very 


politely said, "Of course, of course." 

BASIAGO: Let's look at Truman's advisers. One thing I 
find remarkable about The Pathology of Power and your 
retelling of these events is that almost all the military 
men around Truman, who you might assume would have asked 
him to drop the bomb because of their commitment and their 
background, apparently advised against it. I'm referring 
to General [Henry H. "Hap"] Arnold, Secretary of War [Henry 
L.] Stimson, General Eisenhower, and Admiral Leahy. Where 
did you find proof that these individuals had taken this 
stance? What were the specific documents? How did the 
documents emerge? 

COUSINS: Leahy reviews his position in his book, I Was 
There, in some detail. [He] recalls the conversation, 
recalls exactly what he told the president. Eisenhower, in 
two places in his memoirs of the war, spoke about his 
conversation with Stimson and this growing wave of sickness 
passing over him when he heard about the fact that Truman 
actually intended to use the bomb on human beings. 
Because, as he said, he knew that the outer defenses to 
Japan were down, and that Japan was looking for a way out, 
and that the way out was to give them a chance to keep the 
emperor. But, as I say, he said whether on moral grounds 
or military grounds, this was a terrible decision. Leahy 
said exactly the same thing. He said that he was not 


taught to make war on women and children in this fashion. 
The joint chiefs of staff had prepared a document showing 
that they recognized that Japan couldn't continue the war 
much longer and had notified our commanders in the field to 
be ready and to accept surrender. The only thing that was 
involved was the Japanese were fighting on because they 
wanted to hold onto the emperor. That was why the war was 
being prolonged, and not for any other reason. So Truman's 
notion that war was being prolonged because they were 
fanatical in wanting to fight to the last minute just 
wasn't true, as he knew it. 

Truman-- I spoke to him several times- -was very 
assertive, and curiously paradoxical, when we spoke about 
the kind of peace we would have. I would try to press on 
him the argument that this was the time to anticipate the 
long-term problems to the peace with respect to world 
organization and how the United Nations, as then 
contemplated and constituted, couldn't do the job. He had 
no hesitation in agreeing with me, reached in his pocket 
and took out Tennyson's "Locksley Hall," with its reference 
to "A Parliament of Man," and a world government. Truman 
said, "This is my favorite poem." This was the paradox. 
But he was not qualified to make great judgments that 
involved not just political concerns but historical and 
moral considerations. Four hundred thousand lives were 


lost needlessly. 

BASIAGO: Although it's difficult to question the veracity 
of President Eisenhower, let's suppose these individuals 
had conceded to Truman's and Byrnes ' s desire to drop the 
bomb or not shouted loud enough in the Oval Office. 
Wouldn't they have an interest in the telling of their 
memoirs to suggest that they had been opposed to the 
decision, considering how barbarous it might be viewed 
later in history? 

COUSINS: Truman's memoirs may or may not be complete. 
Charles Ross had borrowed them--the president's press 
secretary- -for his own use, and then they disappeared from 
sight for seventeen years. No one knows whether all the 
papers were returned. All we can do is to go on the basis 
of what's in the papers that were returned. No one has 
questioned the authenticity of the entries made at the time 
of Potsdam, which are fairly complete. Therefore, it's 
very clear that the president himself knew that an invasion 
was not necessary. 

BASIAGO: Given that, do these individuals escape 
culpability? In the sense that here you had a nation 
geared for a tremendous war effort. They were military 
men. They thought in a military fashion, hierarchical 
fashion. They respected the commander in chief, carried 
out his orders, even when they were expressing 


disagreement. Is there any evidence that they did try to 
resist Truman's desire to drop the bomb? 

COUSINS: Now, you saw the report turned in by the joint 
chiefs when they reviewed for Congress some months later 
the events attending the end of the war. In that you read 
about the fact that the thinking in the military about an 
invasion changed as additional information came in and as 
it became apparent that Japan was not in a position to 
fight on militarily and that the only reason it was doing 
so was because they wanted to keep the emperor. They 
themselves felt that if we made that concession the war 
could end rather promptly. But again, Truman feared he 
could be criticized later for not having used this weapon 
at the earliest possible moment. He felt that American 
public opinion would not have supported a conditional 

I think that the president had allowed himself to be 
caught up in certain myths. We had this great, apparently 
unchallenged notion about unconditional surrender, which 
was a term with a great deal of gloried respect. School 
children were told about unconditional surrender. It 
always seemed as though you don't win a war unless you have 
unconditional surrender on the other side. I think Truman 
was caught up in that nonsense. There are always 
conditions, as we discovered when we made peace. So I feel 


that the case for Truman's decision has yet to be made. 
BASIAGO: You're saying they made a strong case in their 
report against the decision to drop the bomb. 
COUSINS: The chiefs, the joint chiefs. 

BASIAGO: That was where the maximum figure, they believed, 
of American casualties would be two hundred thousand. Were 
other reports being overestimated? 

COUSINS: It's a matter of time here. In the early part of 
the year, the invasion was a probability rather than a 
possibility. It didn't seem at that time that we'd be able 
to defeat Japan otherwise, so there was a great deal of 
planning that went forward for the invasion. That's quite 
real. But after the defeat of Germany, and with the rapid 
advance of U.S. forces in the stepping-stones of the 
Pacific, the thinking about what would be required to 
defeat Japan changed and the eagerness of the military to 
have the Soviet Union come into the war in the Far East 
began to be modified. Finally, as the report of the joint 
chiefs shows, when we recognized that the outer defenses to 
Japan were down, we alerted our commanders in the field to 
be prepared for her to surrender. In the minds of the 
military, the real question then was political, whether the 
president would allow the Japanese to retain the emperor. 
BASIAGO: I'd like to explore your degree of involvement 
with each of the individuals who you essentially absolve of 


moral responsibility for the dropping of the bomb. The 

first person you list as a significant critic of the 

decision was Hap Arnold. Did you have any involvement with 

Hap Arnold? 


BASIAGO: How about Secretary of War Stimson? 


BASIAGO: I know we've touched on this in the past. 

COUSINS: No, no. 

BASIAGO: He, of course- - 

COUSINS: I know. 


COUSINS: No, I had no contact with Stimson nor with 

Byrnes . 

BASIAGO: How about Admiral Leahy? 


BASIAGO: And, of course. President Eisenhower, you were an 

emissary for. 

COUSINS: And also [Douglas] MacArthur, where I spoke to 

him about this, and then he told me that he had not been 

consulted about the dropping of the bomb, which was a great 

surprise to me. Here, after all, you've got your 

commander, and he wasn't even consulted about this. When I 

asked him what his advice would have been if he had been 

consulted, he said, "I would have told him that it was not 


necessary to drop the bomb." 

BASIAGO: Did you ever have any discussion with Grenville 

Clark over Stimson's opposition, for instance? Clark being 

an aide to Stimson. 


BASIAGO: So most of your position emerged after 1979, when 

the Truman diaries served as the-- 

COUSINS: Ninety- five percent of it emerged at 7:30 in the 

morning on August 6. Everything after that was 

corroboratory . 

BASIAGO: You've criticized President Truman. I'm 

wondering if you could respond to the following other 

motivations he might have had. It seems that every person 

involved had one explanation for why they were for or 

against that. You mentioned how Truman believed that he 

wouldn't have been in a very good position had he not used 

this weapon to end the war. How about other elements that 

might have been shaping history at that time? For 

instance, revenge for Pearl Harbor. 

COUSINS: Well, Truman learned about the successful test of 

the bomb at Alamogordo, while he was at Potsdam. In the 

first diary entry that he wrote, you had a sense that he 

realized that restraint was necessary because of the nature 

of this new weapon, and he also indicated in that first 

entry that this thing shouldn't be dropped without a 


warning. So something happened after that. I think that 
Secretary Byrnes was primarily responsible for persuading 
the president that there were other factors other than the 
military in the war, having to do with the Soviet Union, 
and (a) the kind of claim the Soviet Union would have on 
the occupation, cheap claim, and (b) the fact that we'd 
have problems with the Soviet Union, not only in the Far 
East but in Europe, and that it was necessary for us to 
brandish our strength, and that the bomb would make the 
Soviet Union more manageable. That, I think, was the 
primary consideration. 

BASIAGO: We find in the historical treatment of this era 
the tremendously slanted view of the Japanese, 
characterized as subhuman or demonic or monstrous. Might 
there been some racism involved? I just want to explore 
all the possibilities. 

COUSINS: I've often wondered whether we would have dropped 
the bomb on a European nation, although it could be pointed 
out that the mass air raids over Berlin and Aachen and 
Dusseldorf and Hamburg were certainly not teatime stuff. 
We didn't hesitate in the course of the war to do what we 
had to do there. But even so, I've wondered whether we 
would have dropped an atomic bomb on a European country. 
BASIAGO: Another factor I'd like to explore would be the 
dynamics of the politics surrounding Truman. It's often 


said how Hubert [H.] Humphrey, for instance, might not have 
been able to open up relations with China, where Richard 
[M.] Nixon could achieve that. Is it possible that Truman, 
as a nonmilitary man, someone who would come into office 
under these conditions, under the conditions that we're 
aware of, was in a position where he would have been forced 
to such a barbarous weapon, where a stronger or-- 
COUSINS: No one forced him. He received some arguments in 
favor of it, I think by Byrnes, but if he wanted to listen 
to his military men, he would not have dropped the bomb. 
Certainly, Eisenhower didn't support it, Leahy didn't 
support it. If he would have consulted MacArthur, 
MacArthur would not have supported it. Hap Arnold did not 
support it. Forrestal did not. These were men who knew 
what the Japan situation was at the time. But he was 
weighing political factors. 

BASIAGO: Another theme that comes to mind- -one that I find 
in your essays after the war--is your characterization of 
our era as an age of acceleration. We find some degree of 
ill-preparedness on Truman's part. Of course, his vice 
presidency had lasted only eighty- two days, during which 
time he had met with FDR only twice. He was then expected 
to make vital decisions, one of which was this immense 
question of whether he would inaugurate the age of atomic 
warfare. Was there any possibility that he didn't have 


enough time to weigh the moral consequences? 
COUSINS: I think he had enough time. I don't think his 
thinking would have changed. He wanted it known that he 
could make big and bold decisions. No, I don't think that 
he was handicapped by want of time. He was not the kind of 
person who would probe and study and brood the way 
[Woodrow] Wilson did or the way Adlai [E.] Stevenson did. 
Nor would he be profoundly affected by moral questions-- 
contrasted to the military — which he probably regarded as 
weak and soft. Roosevelt, I think, would have been far 
more imaginative in dealing with that particular situation, 
as he had with others. And Roosevelt didn't hesitate to 
step up military force when he had to. 

I don't think that the seriousness of that decision 
historically is appreciated even now by the American 
people. Because even in warfare you have to ask yourself, 
is all this killing necessary? I don't see how we can 
escape asking that question of the use of the bomb. Were 
all those deaths, all that torment, really necessary? And 
also did we, by dropping the bomb, limit our initiatives 
following the war in trying to head off an atomic armaments 
race, one which jeopardized the very life of the United 
States itself? So one wonders whether there's almost a law 
of retribution, which is to say that the blindness which 
led us to make a morally unjustified decision, whether that 


blindness would cause us to continue to move in certain 
directions until the inherent error of that approach would 
turn on us. Maybe that's what's meant by retribution. 


NOVEMBER 2, 1987 

COUSINS: Sure, that was that with the passing of years. 
These thoughts don't down with me. The lump in my throat 
gets bigger all the time. I had hoped I ' d be able to 
swallow this and get on with it. But I find that it's 
omnipresent. Every time I look at our adopted daughter 
from Hiroshima [Shikego Sasamori] and look at those twisted 
fingers and massive keloid burns on her face and hands, I 
think of that decision, and I also think of the lost 
American lives that have to be charged to Truman's delay in 
getting into negotiations based on the retention of the 
emperor, which he did anyway later. 

BASIAGO: In The Pathology of Power, you cite two unlikely 
sources, John Foster Dulles and General MacArthur. You 
cite Dulles 's claims about the untoward influence of the 
weapons manufacturers on governments. Is that a general 
heuristic point he was making, or was there a specific 
claim he was making regarding the influence of munitions 
makers upon, let's say, Truman's administration or his 
decision. That he had a responsibility to them, let's say, 
to utilize the weapon? 

COUSINS: Well, like Eisenhower, Dulles was in a position 
to see it firsthand, how a number of what appeared to be 
public issues concerning military preparedness were 


actually attempts of the arms manufacturers to get on the 
gravy train and to create episodes and to do lobbying based 
on national insecurity. [He] was also aware, I think, of 
the fact that the military could create such situations 
which would dramatize the need for more money, a lot more 
money. This was a matter of great concern to President 
Eisenhower, because he knew what the military situation 
was, and he also knew how easy it was to create episodes 
and get the United States [involved] --forcing him to fall 
in behind the flag. He was terribly frustrated by the U-2 
episode. He was on the eve of negotiations with the 
Russians. He'd been waiting for a long time for the right 
circumstances. He knew that you couldn't come to the 
Russians with hat in hand. He wanted to wait for a moment 
of balance where you could get into effective 
negotiations. The circumstances were right, and then you 
suddenly have the U-2 episode. We've seen since how on the 
eve of other important negotiations that trick of the 
military to create an episode which knocks that out has 
been in full play. I myself had one such episode. It came 
it years later in the Vietnam negotiations. 
BASIAGO: What happened? 

COUSINS: I was asked by the president to go to the Far 
East for the purpose of getting word testifying to the good 
faith of President [Lyndon B.] Johnson. I was a layman. 


you see, and so I could do this from outside government, 
but I was also in a position, as I had before on the [John 
F.] Kennedy mission to [Nikita S.] Khrushchev, to be a 
witness to the good faith of the president. It was felt 
that some similar approach might be useful. The president 
was interested in fighting a limited war and wanted to 
explore the possibilities of a nonmilitary settlement. And 
the occasion, it seemed to the president, was presented by 
the inauguration of [Ferdinand E.] Marcos of the 
Philippines. The idea was that I would be appointed 
presidential ambassador to the inauguration of Marcos, 
which would be sort of a cover. But then I would work my 
way up to Vietnam and get word to Ho Chi Minh about the 
position of the president, his desire to end the war around 
the peace table. In Tokyo, I met an old friend, a Japanese 
Christian minister by the name of Nishimura, who had just 
been in Vietnam and who was a school chum of Ho Chi 
Minh's. It seemed to me that if I could persuade Nishimura 
of the good faith of the president and have him carry that 
word, that might even be more effective. 

So I asked him, I got permission to do this. He did 
go to Hanoi, and he came back and reported success. I'd 
asked him if he could get some tangible indication of their 
desire to start negotiations, looking towards a nonmilitary 
settlement. The word that he brought was that they were 


prepared to meet with Americans at any time, and suggested 
some neutral place recognized by both the United States and 
North Vietnam. I had had some contacts with Poles who were 
also in the International Control Commission. [Bohdan] 
Lewandowski at the United Nations, for example. The Poles 
had decorated me because of the project involving the 
survivors of the concentration camps, when I negotiated- - 
since the Poles were not recognized by West Germany- -in the 
behalf of the survivors successfully. These were good 
contacts. So I suggested that he find out whether Warsaw 
was acceptable as a place. We recognized the Poles, and 
the North Vietnamese recognized the Poles. We had good 
relations with the Poles, the government would be useful. 
Hanoi sent word back that they said yes and suggested a 
date, February 13, 1967. 

I came back to Washington, and it was decided that I 
would meet with the representative from North Vietnam in 
Warsaw on February 13. I had conversations with the 
president and with [McGeorge] Bundy and Bill [D.] Moyers 
and [Jack J.] Valenti--Valenti, in particular. And there 
came a point in the briefings where Valenti disappeared 
from the discussion, went inside, came out again, and 
handed me a paper for me to sign, saying that I would never 
reveal what had happened either in my discussions in 
Washington or my discussions with the Poles. That seemed 


to me to be completely out of order. I didn't sign it. In 
any event, I prepared to leave for Warsaw, came to 
Washington again for my final briefing, and stayed at the 
Hay-Adams Hotel . 

Arthur [J.] Goldberg was coordinating the president's 
strategy to persuade the world that we were definitely 
interested in a nonmilitary settlement, and towards this 
end we were declaring a pause in the bombing. My mission 
was part of that total effort. Other people were going to 
the different places in the world, India and Canada and so 
forth, to educate those governments about the sincerity of 
our efforts. The purpose of the pause was to see whether 
there was any interest on the part of North Vietnam to 
begin discussions with the U.S., however unstructured those 
discussions might be. I came from the Far East with the 
agreement of Hanoi to begin talks. So the strategy was 

But Goldberg met me that day in the White House and 
said, "They are going to resume the bombing." I said, "How 
can they resume the bombing when we ' ve obtained the 
assurance we sought about starting talks? The whole 
purpose of declaring a pause in the bombing was to persuade 
North Vietnam and the rest of the world that we're sincere 
in seeking negotiations at whatever level. And now we've 
got it. I'm meeting with North Vietnam on [February] 13 in 


Warsaw." He said, "They're going ahead with the 
bombing." I said, "In which case North Vietnam will never 
go ahead with these discussions." I went in to see Mac 
Bundy, who told me he thought I ought to go anyway, just to 
be able to persuade the North Vietnamese not to attach the 
wrong significance to the bombing. I told him I didn't 
think I could be persuasive under those circumstances, and 
I didn't go. That's responsive to your question. 
BASIAGO: I note, when one considers your diplomatic 
career, the Marcos trip seems to be the final episode. I 
don't know if that's correct. 
COUSINS: It is correct. 

BASIAGO: Was your refusal to sign the confidentiality 
agreement and then your refusal to talk out of both sides 
of your mouth following Mac's second request--did that 
effectively end your diplomatic career? 
COUSINS: I had no further requests from the Johnson 
administration . 

BASIAGO: I guess it kind of outlines it. 

COUSINS: I was appointed by the president, however, to be 
chairman of American representation on the International 
Cooperation Year, but I'm not sure I remember if that was 
before or after that particular episode. They did invite 
me down to the White House for subsequent dinners. I 
remember one with Chancellor [Helmut] Schmidt, I guess it 



BASIAGO: When one considers what you've just said, it 
seems to be kind of an object lesson in the influence of 
the military-industrial complex. Where is the seat of 
power? Are you suggesting that the presidency lacked 
control over the bombing in some kind of substantial way? 
COUSINS: I think something happened with that. I say this 
not just on the basis of the episode I just described, but 
on the basis of what happened to Ambassador [Henry Cabot] 
Lodge's initiative that fall when he sought to restore 
these negotiations and again used the good offices of the 
Poles. A meeting was set up for Warsaw where he was to 
attend to start the process of a nonmilitary settlement. 
That meeting was to take place in early December of 1967. 
It took a long time to get back to the point where the 
North Vietnamese or the Poles would accept our good 
faith. But the president gave assurances to the Poles that 
nothing would stand in the way of this- -that they were 
genuinely sincere. They went ahead and reopened the 
contacts, and a date was set for December. Then once again 
on the eve of the meeting, Hanoi was plastered far more 
devastatingly than the first time. And that was the end of 
those initiatives. The president was furious about the 
bombing, because the military had not consulted him on the 
decision to bomb Hanoi. He issued an order that set 


specific limits outside the city, a perimeter inside which 
the military was not supposed to go in terms of military 
operations of bombing. But the president didn't want to 
make a public issue of it. I think he'd been sensitized by 
the MacArthur-Truman situation. He had been able to work 
very well with the military. But it was another example of 
the fact that the military were taking actions that negated 
presidential decisions. 

It's not just the military. I think that in 1947 we 
took a turning with the establishment of secret agencies, 
not realizing that these secret agencies could have a 
profound effect on foreign policy, creating situations in 
which the president had to fall in behind the flag. Our 
involvement in Vietnam was not done without these secret 
agencies testing their strength or the strength of the 
United States. The business of probing and testing 
apparently is the standard operating procedure at those 
levels. See how far you can go, and you have the option to 
pull back or go ahead. I think the Russians did the same 
thing when they put missiles in Cuba. Probe to see what 
would happen. If it worked, the Russians had missiles 
close to the U.S. And if it didn't work, they could 
withdraw. But Truman, to his credit, said his greatest 
mistake was supporting the concept of the CIA [Central 
Intelligence Agency] . 


BASIAGO: You mentioned, although this doesn't relate to 
our original topic, which was Hiroshima-- You mentioned 
your apprehension that there might have been some influence 
behind Ted Koppel ' s "Nightline" program. Are there any 
other significant operations that you'd care to identify 
and that might find their way into this record that will be 
deposited for quite a number of years? 

COUSINS: I've written about our initial involvement in 
Laos. It was done out of miscalculation. I don't think 
that the full dimensions of that episode are fully 
understood or the anomaly represented by the fact that both 
sides in the Laos civil war wore American uniforms. 
Soldiers of both sides were being paid by the United States 
because of the fact that the CIA was on one road and the 
State Department was on another. So we're really having a 
war over that, but we're fighting with other lives. The 
ease with which error can be translated into loss of life 
as a result of poor government has been one of the most 
important lessons that I've learned in my life. The ease 
with which small events can suddenly erupt into events of 
considerable consequence would be another such lesson. 
BASIAGO: Which in a such strange way gets us back to the 
atomic bomb. I'm thinking of the way in which Alexander 
Sachs and Leo Szilard then asked [Albert] Einstein to 
approach the president about discoveries that had been made 


which would have dramatic consequences. You mentioned in 
an early interview that you had a significant friendship 
with Alexander Sachs and with Lee [A.] DuBridge. 
COUSINS: Einstein and Szilard. 

BASIAGO: Could you discuss each of these individuals? 
Because another thing I find interesting about The 
Pathology of Power is that, in addition to these military 
people who it seems were not responsible, many if not all 
of the atomic scientists you describe as having asked that 
the bomb be demonstrated rather than dropped. 
COUSINS: Yes, including General [George C. ] Marshall. 
Szilard was probably the most explosively creative mind I'd 
ever known. Brilliant, exotic, unpredictable, lovable, 
witty, enigmatic, all things that one would expect to find 
in a play by [Ferenc] Molnar, a Hungarian view of the 
world. I met him not long after the bomb was dropped. We 
had taken a very early public position at the Sat 
[Saturday] Review [of Literature] about this. We revealed 
publicly the [James] Franck letter that had been sent to 
Truman and ignored. We beat a pretty big drum and became 
suddenly the clearinghouse for the scientists. The first 
of them to approach us was Harrison [S.] Brown, and he 
brought in Szilard. That was the beginning of a fairly 
intensive association and certainly a warm friendship. 
When Einstein was trying to figure out a way of getting to 


Roosevelt, he learned that Sachs knew Roosevelt. Szilard 
was pivotal in getting Einstein to go to Sachs. Sachs 
relished that role. DuBridge--intelligent, rational, 
measured, very genuine, careful thinker, responsible--tried 
to think through the implications of the bomb. 

[J. Robert] Oppenheimer was in stark contrast to 
DuBridge or Szilard. His thinking v/as rather convoluted, 
and his brilliance didn't lead him in a straight line to 
accurate judgments. Other things were involved. For 
example, Oppenheimer supported the May- Johnson Bill for 
military control over atomic energy. His rationale for 
doing it was that he would be there to protect the 
country. Intimations of immortality, I suppose. But you 
see, he had been made a pet of the military. His brother 
[Frank Oppenheimer] had been brought up in [Joseph R.] 
McCarthy's hearings. His brother had involvements on that 
extreme leftist front. I don't know whether Oppenheimer 
felt the need to go the other extreme to clear himself. 
Oppenheimer had the gall to recommend to [Leslie R.] Groves 
that Einstein be deprived of top-secret clearance because 
of Einstein's German connections. That sort of thing. It 
was a shocking example of irresponsibility. 

Oppenheimer has been able somehow to come through 
these invidious episodes without too much of a stain. But 
he threw someone else to the wolves, an old friend of his. 


during the time of McCarthy. Is the name Hoffman? I can't 
think of his name at the moment. It was not a 
demonstration of sterling character. I had gone to a 
number of meetings with Oppenheimer, and found him very 
calculated in his approach to things. He would speak in a 
very low voice, so that everyone at the table would have to 
lean forward to hear what he had to say. 

I would contrast Oppenheimer ' s complicated personality 
with the clarity and directness of Leo Szilard or Harrison 
Brown or Lee DuBridge or many of the others. You knew 
exactly why they were doing things and what they were 
doing. I couldn't imagine, for example, Szilard ever 
sacrificing a f riend--tossing him to the wolves of the 
[House] Un-American Activities Committee or, nor could I 
imagine Harrison Brown doing that, or Lee DuBridge doing 
it, or [Arthur H.] Compton, or any of the other kingpins. 
But Oppenheimer had a great reputation. He managed to 
ingratiate himself with the military, as I have said. 

Einstein, whom I got to know during this period, had 
written a letter of congratulations on the editorial 
appearing in the Sat [Saturday] Review [of Literature] . 
Einstein felt that I didn't go far enough, that I was too 
much of a minimalist in terms of my ideas of world 
government. He felt that I was trying, I suppose, to take 
too many things into account. I was giving more weight to 


obstacles of world government than existed. On the other 
side, there were those who felt that my notions were 
farfetched and completely unachievable. But we had a very 
good relationship. Einstein didn't oppose me because he 
thought I was being too gradualist. He just wanted to draw 
me out and to encourage me to be a little bolder. Einstein 
had no apologies to make for having gone to Roosevelt about 
the bomb. He felt that it was absolutely essential with 
the facts as known to him at the time, but he didn't 
believe we were right in dropping the bomb at Hiroshima. 
BASIAGO: All of the atomic scientists--including, 
surprisingly, Edward Teller, who would later become such a 
defender of U.S. military policy--seemed to escape blame in 
The PathologY of Power. I'm wondering why? There's been a 
big debate over the moral responsibilities of 

COUSINS: Well, they did try to persuade Truman--including 
Teller, who, as I said, thought that it was a mistake to 
drop the bomb. I don't know what more they could have 
done. Should they have immolated themselves? 
BASIAGO: Well, withheld their labor. That would be a 
moral path. If they believed a mutually suicidal armaments 
race was evolving, it would take their know-how to 
implement it. 
COUSINS: I don't think they would have gained any 


credibility by such dramatic tactics. The United States 
doesn't respond well to Joan of Arc forays. 
BASIAGO: I'd like to assess your degree of involvement 
with the significant atomic scientists. How well did you 
know Sachs? It's hard to ascertain. 

COUSINS: I didn't know him very well. He came to the 
house one time. I had lunch with him another time. Met 
him at a meeting called by Beardsley Ruml at another 
time. But I didn't know him too well. There's one rather 
amusing episode. Szilard and Harry Brown had come out to 
the house one day. This happened to be the day when we had 
a Sat Review picnic. We had a softball game on the lawn. 
Sachs telephoned, asking to speak to Brown. But before 
that, he wanted to talk to me about some things, and he 
kept droning on. He was reviewing a thousand years of 
history. I quietly put down the receiver, went out, took 
my turn at bat, hit a triple, silently came back, picked up 
the phone, and he was still going on! It's a curious 
historical excursion. He'd come forth with some three 
hundred years in history. Then I had to do something 
else. I put down the phone very quietly, did it, and came 
back. And there he was, still going on. He was not 
inarticulate. Brown was much amused by this, and felt it 
was entirely in character. 
BASIAGO: Harrison Brown, of course, in addition to being 


concerned about the advent of atomic weapons, developed a 
body of work around really the fate of the earth in 
general. Environmental crisis. 

COUSINS: Yes. I had the highest regard for Brown. Our 
relationship lasted many years, enlivened by joint 
membership on the boards of organizations. I proposed him 
as a trustee for the [Charles F.] Kettering Foundation. 
When he became the foreign secretary of the National 
Academy of Scientists, he brought me into some of their 
discussions. I tried to help him raise funds for the 
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. At the end, he became 
the editor of that. He had cancer and would edit the 
magazine at a distance. I have great sadness when I think 
of his later years. Who are the others you've mentioned? 
BASIAGO: I'd like to draw out some of those who became 
significant disarmament figures. Hans [A.] Bethe. 
COUSINS: Didn't know him, except on the basis of attending 
meetings. Didn't know him personally the way I did 

BASIAGO: How about George [B.] Kistiakowsky, who has been 

COUSINS: Kistiakowsky took part, I think, in one of the 
Dartmouth [College] meetings, and I enjoyed meeting him and 
listening to him, but I don't consider we were friends. 
BASIAGO: Luis [W.] Alvarez? 


BASIAGO: Neils Bohr, 

Didn't know him at all. 

Vannevar Bush? 

Yes, but the same way I knew Kistiakowsky . 

From the Dartmouth conferences, or rather just in 






COUSINS: The former. 

BASIAGO: How about Marvin [L.] Goldberger? 

COUSINS: Curiously, I got to know him on a friendly basis 

only after moving out here. We could reminisce about those 

early days. But we were both still caught up in the fight 

to turn back the arms race. 


NOVEMBER 23, 1987 

BASIAGO: Today I'd like to spend some time discussing 
various ways you've interacted with official branches of 
the U.S. government. The first question I have is a 
follow-up question regarding your years at the [United 
States] Office of War Information [OWI]. There was a 
debate which occurred in March of 1944. The setting was a 
Town Hall meeting in New York City. In the debate you 
joined Major George Fielding Eliot, a prominent military 
analyst, in defending mass bombing of enemy cities. 
Charles C. Paulding, literary editor of Commonweal, and 
Norman Thomas, the socialist-pacifist leader, opposed. How 
was the debate organized? I'm wondering, since it occurred 
during the time you were with OWI, whether you spoke under 
their aegis? 

COUSINS: No, I'd come to know George V. Denny, who was the 
moderator of the Town Hall, New York [City], and also the 
"Town Hall Meeting of the Air." He had me appear on his 
program on a wide variety of subjects. We had had a debate 
in the Saturday Review [of Literature] that had a bearing 
on the subject of mass bombing. It has some history to 
it. I had been at a meeting of the PEN [International 
Association of Poets, Playwrights, Essayists and Novelists] 
in New York. I was distressed when I heard my good friend 


Clifton Fadiman say that the only good Germans are dead 
Germans. What distressed me very much was that this seemed 
to be a throwback to World War I. While I felt that Hitler 
could not have come to power without enough public support 
to make it possible, I also felt that it would be a 
terrible mistake to regard all Germans as evil. 
Circumstances make changes in people. One of the 
circumstances that existed in Germany at the end of World 
War I was that the country was wide open for the kind of 
nonsense that Hitler came to represent. After the meeting 
of the PEN, I wrote something in the Sat Review differing 
with Clifton Fadiman on that issue of collective guilt. 

That led to other questions. Did it mean that we were 
just to sit back and accept all the devastation meted out 
by Germany? Certainly not. After Germany carried out the 
mass raids over London, it seemed to me the pattern of 
warfare was set, and the notion that Germany could carry 
out these mass bombings without fear of retaliation didn't 
seem to me be supportable. Yes, I was troubled by my 
position about mass bombing. I knew that a moral act has 
certain absolutes to it, and the notion that we're 
justified in committing an immoral act because someone else 
did it has always been troubling to me. But in that 
particular instance in the war, I felt that the quickest 
best chance we had of ending the war was not through 


invasion but through continuation of our policy, which was 
of total retaliation, clearing the way for actual 

You may observe certain discrepancies between my 
position then and the position I've taken about the bombing 
of Hiroshima. It seems to me that one of the dangers and 
perhaps flaws in my position about the mass bombing of 
Germany was that having started down on that road we could 
justify almost anything that we did through the same 
reasoning. But the situation in Hiroshima was, it seems to 
me, basically different. We didn't have to do it. It was 
done, as we later discovered, more for the purpose of 
making an impression on the Russians than for speeding up 
the end of the war. 

BASIAGO: That's really the issue that I wanted to 
clarify. Major Eliot, your colleague on your side in that 
particular instance, argued that the way to stop the 
killing was to bring the war to an end, as you said, and 
the way to bring the war to an end was to smash on to 
victory with every weapon and every means available. That 
phrase kind of stuck in my mind. I'm wondering if that was 
the mind-set with which the people who were eager to end 
the war confronted Hiroshima. 

COUSINS: It's precisely because [Harry S] Truman regarded 
the atomic bomb just as a weapon that we incurred this 


terrible moral liability. I don't think he saw atomic 
energy as the beginning of a new age in human history. I 
don't think he fully understood the implications of setting 
a torch to a civilization or the fact that we were dealing 
with absolute power and what the implications of absolute 
power meant. If, for example, we had developed superbombs, 
so that instead of dropping ten or fifteen bombs, you just 
drop one, that would qualify as a superweapon in Major 
Eliot's formulation. We're talking here about one bomb 
that contained more power than all bombs dropped on Europe 
up to that point combined. So there's a point at which a 
difference in degree becomes a difference in kind. I think 
that Truman was probably thinking about this as a 
difference of degree. We established the principle of mass 
bombing. What was the difference between the mass fire 
raids of Nagoya, for example--the city that was burned down 
to the ground--and Hiroshima? 

BASIAGO: Which was the more significant fact? The fact 
that with the advent of atomic weapons any use of them 
could mean mutual suicide between warring nations? Or the 
fact that it was a step-up in the scale of destruction? 
COUSINS: Several things. Even in warfare, and even 
recognizing the validity of a great deal of Major Eliot's 
argument, it becomes necessary to ask, "Is the intended 
destruction necessary?" Would it really, as Eliot had 


said, bring us closer to victory? Or is it random and 
extraneous destruction, where the loss of lives becomes 
more than a wartime fact, but something that is the result 
of a political--rather than military--decision? So there 
is a difference it seems to me between the mass raids over 
Germany and Hiroshima. In Germany, it was absolutely clear 
that this was probably the only way the war could be 
ended. In Hiroshima, the president had been informed by 
the joint chiefs of staff that the outer defenses to Japan 
were down, and indeed our commanders in the field had been 
alerted to the possibility of the imminent collapse of 

So we were dealing with a wide variety of political 
factors. The president was meeting in Potsdam with 
Churchill and Stalin. Earlier we had finally persuaded 
Stalin to come into the war and fight a two-front war. All 
Stalin asked was that once the war against Germany was 
over, he'd be allowed sufficient time to move his troops. 
A date was set, August 8, 1945, for that purpose. Just to 
be absolutely certain that the Russians would fulfill their 
commitment, Truman extended it by a week to August 15. 
He'd written in his diary that he was pressing for that 
because he knew that the moment the Russians turned up on 
the battlefield in Japan, Japan would quit the war. He 
said, "When that happens, finis Japs." So we did know that 


it was possible to win the war without the bomb. Truman 
had said so in his diary. 

The fact that we dropped the bomb then was not so much 
a military matter as a political matter. [James F.] 
Byrnes, as we later saw, had said that we wanted to make 
the Russians more manageable in the postwar world. Truman 
told the American people that the invasion was necessary. 
But that statement was not true at that particular time. 
It may have been true earlier. But once we knew that Japan 
was ready to collapse, that Russia was coming in, then 
Truman himself said that he was certain that Japan would 
quit. We knew that the Soviet Union was coming in by 
August 15, and Truman and Byrnes wanted to end the war 
before Russia established a cheap claim on the 
occupation. Then you had, as I said a moment ago, the fact 
of the demonstration on a live target in order to make an 
impression on the Soviet Union. Well, that's a pretty 
expensive impression; almost three hundred thousand lives, 

BASIAGO: I'm curious whether you began to adopt or endorse 
or adopt the view that your opponents took that night in 
the debate. Let me just outline what Norman Thomas said 
and then what Paulding had to say. Thomas argued that 
concentrated bombings should be just on military 
objectives, for mass bombing of enemy cities would have 


social results disastrous to the winning of a lasting 
peace, which he reasoned was the ultimate purpose of the 
war itself. He urged that no matter where they existed, 
homes, museums, schools, hospitals, and churches should not 
be destroyed. Paulding echoed this sentiment, saying that 
the peace will not be furthered if there is one single 
family wandering homeless when their homes might have been 
preserved. How did you respond to those humanitarian 
claims, which seemed to foreshadow the views you would take 
later in your life? 

COUSINS: I should suppose the position I would have taken 
at that time was that this was not a matter of what would 
happen to Germany, but what would happen to Europe, the 
rest of Europe, what would happen to the United States. 
Germany had demonstrated that it had no such 
compunctions. The question was whether our forbearance-- 
and I could understand the moral argument offered by 
Thomas, for whom I had great admiration--would actually 
result in a much larger assault on homes, hospitals, 
schools, and churches. The war against Germany was a 
fearsome thing. We were dealing there, not just with the 
destruction of property and the destruction of lives, but 
the destruction of values. We were also dealing with an 
attempt to create a Nazi mold for world society. It was an 
evil thing. 


The position I took was a difficult one for me to 
take. I always had had great admiration for Thomas. We'd 
been very close friends. That friendship continued for 
many years. I gave the eulogy for him. I would have no 
difficulty in accepting his position under other 
circumstances, because, as I'd said, you always had to ask 
yourself, is this absolutely necessary? I was afraid that 
it was in the case of Germany. I saw no other way to 
defeat Germany. But when it became clear after the defeat 
of Germany that Japan was looking for a way out and that it 
would quit the war if we had allowed them to retain the 
institution of the emperor (which we did ultimately, 
anyway), that war could have ended. Therefore, the 
destruction that took place after that fact- -after Japan 
was seeking a way out--was extraneous, unnecessary, and a 
great moral liability, I think, on the United States. We 
didn't have to do it. 

BASIAGO: Thomas, at the time of the debate, was chairman 
of the Postwar World Council. Did you have any involvement 
with this operation? 

BASIAGO: How would you describe the difference between his 
views of world socialism versus the views regarding world 
federalism that you would expound upon later? I know 
that's a broad-- 


COUSINS: Socialism is an ideological doctrine. It has to 
do with the social and economic organization of a nation. 
Federalism bypasses the question of differences between 
social and political systems but seeks to create a 
structure among nations which can contain their differences 
and keep them from becoming combustible. Federalism 
doesn't seek to eliminate differences between political and 
social institutions. It respects cultural differences 
between nations. All it tries to do is to find some means 
to keep these differences from setting the world on fire. 
Thomas was advocating a specific form of economic 
organization which could be debated on its merits. But 
that was quite distinct and apart from how nations arrange 
their affairs, how they deal with another in the world 
arena, what code is to be set up, and what structure is to 
be set up to deal with violators of law in the world 
community. So we're dealing with two quite distinct 
approaches. A house is an abode for people and people live 
in it. A bridge also enables people to do things. But 
there is a big difference between a house and a bridge. 
They're both structures. 

BASIAGO: Why did the world federalists choose to exclude 
economic issues from their vision of a better postwar world 
COUSINS: Matter of timing. Federalists were thinking in 


terms of limited governance. The problems of a world 
government, true world government, which would take on 
political questions, economic questions, social questions, 
we thought was beyond human capacity and perhaps even 
beyond our imagining. On the other hand, it was necessary 
to deal with basic causes of war, to deal with tensions, to 
have a world court with effective jurisdiction, compulsory 
jurisdiction. It was important to have a machinery in all 
of those matters concerned with common dangers and common 
needs. While some of the federalists felt that ultimately 
we would have to consider these broader needs, it didn't 
seem to us that we ought to sacrifice that which was 
absolutely essential, namely a structure for effective 
peace, in the attempt to do everything. 

So you might say that the federalists were divided 
into three groups, the maximalists, the minimalists, and 
the miximalists. The maximalists were concerned, not just 
about codifying the relationships among nations in creating 
a structure for enforceable peace, but they were also 
concerned with the conditions of human society and felt 
that no government could be sustained unless it did deal 
with these questions of social justice. The minimalists 
were those who wanted to strengthen the United Nations into 
an effective world order, where its principal concern would 
be keeping the peace, and where the individual nations 


would pursue their own ideologies and their own economics 
and politics. The miximalists were those who recognized 
the need, as the federalists did, to build a floor over 
quicksand. They recognized that ultimately the maximalists 
may be right in terms of the problems of social justice. 
But they didn't believe that it was necessary to pursue 
both goals concurrently. They wanted first to create a 
security structure and use this as a foundation for 
pursuing social justice. 

BASIAGO: I'm fascinated by your friendship with Thomas. 
He seems representative of some major trends of that period 
of intellectual history. 

COUSINS: Thomas was not a world federalist. Thomas seemed 
to believe, and this was perhaps inherent in his earlier 
position about the bombing, that if you create social 
justice other problems would probably take care of 
themselves. My feeling was that social justice was not 
possible under circumstances of combustible tensions, where 
it became necessary for a country to put so much of its 
resources into military approaches, because that affected 
everything, just as conscription did. However, if we can 
create a situation of security, we're in a position to 
consider questions of social justice. That was the 
difference between us, but that didn't interfere with our 
friendship. We came together, as a matter of fact, in the 


founding of SANE, the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy, 
where we could both address ourselves to a specific and 
immediate issue and defer the larger philosophical 
questions between us. 

BASIAGO: Were there any economic determinants to who 
endorsed world federalism? In other words, those who might 
have the most personal economic benefit at risk under world 
socialist organization? 
COUSINS: Repeat that in other words. 

BASIAGO: Apparently, Thomas's movement of world socialism, 
and that group of people which organized themselves around 
world federalism, differed in some substantial ways. Do 
you think that-- I guess I'm trying to avoid asking a 
leading question, which is: Did world federalism become 
more of a magnet for people who had economic interests that 
they didn't want to surrender? I see some very well-heeled 
individuals in the movement. 

COUSINS: Yes. That was a criticism, and that was leveled 
at us. We were accused of being a status quo device for 
protecting the existing social system. The militant 
socialists, of course, were showdown-minded. As a result 
of showdown, there would be the redistribution of wealth. 
Consequently, anything that preserved the present 
situation, which they would call the status quo, was 
regarded as a device for the retention of an unjust 


economic system. But just as they were seeing the world 
through their own prism, asking what would serve the 
purposes of world revolution or world socialism, so were we 
seeing the world through our prism, which would be to 
protect the world against war. It seemed to me that those 
two issues shouldn't be confused. We could talk them out 
or work out those issues on separate grounds, but I didn't 
think that we should risk a world war, or withhold our 
support from something that would keep a world war from 
occurring, because it didn't fit into the plans for those 
who had a different agenda, an economic agenda. 
BASIAGO: Thomas's work had its roots in World War I and 
the socialist movement which had been developing in between 
the wars. I'm wondering if the world federalists began to 
adopt various tenets of socialism, while rejecting the 
economic agenda, as nuclear fear increased in the world. I 
noticed some similarities between the two groups. Both 
seemed to agree that the nation-state was obsolete. Both 
were interested in outlawing war. And both generally 
preached a fellowship of mankind. Do you think to some 
extent the advent of atomic weapons began to force some 
socialist questions? 

COUSINS: One would think that the logic of an ultimate 
weapon which would destroy all opportunity for progress 
would cause some of the socialists to feel that we had to 


have a world before we could have socialism. But such was 
not the case. The perception, on the other hand, of the 
ideologists was that we were a fig leaf for capitalism, 
that our main aim was to preserve capitalism. They pointed 
to all the people prominent in the industrial sector who 
were involved in world federalism to prove their point. 
So, as I say, if those similarities were real, they were 
not so perceived by either group at the time. We didn't 
feel that the situation then represented an additional 
argument for Marxism, quite the contrary. They didn't 
apparently feel that the danger to world society 
represented by cataclysmic war should interfere with the 
march to Marxism. So we never really got together. 
BASIAGO: Thomas seemed to lead with the idea that economic 
inequality was at the heart of warfare. Would you say that 
in their view of warfare the federalists included other 
factors more prominently? 

COUSINS: Well, the economic interpretation of history 
emphasized by Marx and taken up by leaders such as Thomas 
seemed to us to be a simplification of history. We felt 
that it ignored the history of warfare. It ignored even 
the history of the United States, where you had the 
breakdown in the organization of the states during the 
Articles of Confederation. We tended to agree with the 
position described in The Federalist Papers, which is that 


nations have habits in their relationships with one 
another. In the pursuit of their own interests, abstract 
moral questions are bypassed, and the retention of power, 
especially in the international sphere, leads to a conflict 
of national interest. 

So we had a fundamental difference about the 
interpretation of history. We felt that the economic 
interpretation of history tended to minimize national 
factors, national rivalries, accidents, misunderstandings, 
rivalries, all the things that happen when you have 
distinct entities and when you have groups in each of these 
entities determined to increase their power by pointing to 
the other as the reason for retention and enlargement of 
power. We did have this very fundamental difference. We 
were rather rigorously opposed by the left, the ideological 
left. I suppose we didn't debate the question among 
ourselves as much as we should have. I knew what Thomas's 
position was. He knew what my position was. We just never 
debated it. When the time came to deal with the specific 
question that had a deadline to it, namely the spread of 
nuclear weapons and nuclear testing, we had no difficulty 
in working together then. I enjoyed working with him. I 
had a profound respect for him as a human being. 
BASIAGO: The second topic I would like to explore with you 
today is the consultation you conducted for General 


[Douglas] MacArthur, which I suppose, following your 
activities for the Office of War Information, marked the 
second time you stepped out of your role as an editor to 
involve yourself with official activities of the 
government. Is that true or--? 

COUSINS: Well, chronologically, if I remember correctly, I 
went to Germany with Arthur Garfield Hays, at the 
invitation of General [Lucius D.] Clay, the head of the 
occupation there, to examine the program of the occupation 
with respect to human rights. 

BASIAGO: We're dealing with August of 1948? 
COUSINS: Yes. Clay was very appreciative of that visit, 
as he wrote to us. They did accept some of our key 
recommendations, as I remember it. Then MacArthur learned 
of this. I think I went to Japan one year later in '49. 
BASIAGO: I had trouble finding a date on the MacArthur 
consultation. Let's talk about the Clay trip, then, 
first. You joined Arthur Garfield Hays, general council 
for the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] , and Roger 
Baldwin, I imagine, its founder. Why were you and these 
other gentlemen invited, and what did your participation 
represent to the military? What were they trying to 

COUSINS: The democratization of Germany had the highest 
priority in the planning of the United States, reflected in 


the work of General Clay as head of the occupation in 

Germany. The ACLU was the premier organization in the 

United States concerned with the protection of civil 

liberties, human rights, and democratic institutions in 

general. It was therefore not altogether surprising that 

General Clay should have invited the ACLU to send a 

committee or commission to Germany to consult with him, to 

look at what was happening, and make recommendations. 

While Roger Baldwin was the director of the ACLU at that 

time, I don't think he went with us, did he? 

BASIAGO: Yeah. In fact, at least the New York Times 

reported that he had joined you. 

COUSINS: When did they report that? 

BASIAGO: Upon your return from a seven-week tour of the 

American zone of Germany. 

COUSINS: But was he there for the entire time? 

BASIAGO: I'm not certain. 

COUSINS: I'm not sure of that, because my recollection was 

that Hays and I duoed on that thing. Maybe Roger did. 

Maybe that was a lapse of memory, but Hays and I spent a 

great deal of time in various interviews with people in the 

occupation. But I could be wrong about that, which would 

be a remarkable lapse of memory indeed. 

In any event, we met with Clay several times and met 
with his lieutenants a number of times. My particular part 


of the forest there was the youth sector. I spent time 
with the students at the universities. It was a 
fascinating excursion, because it brought up the questions 
that you had raised earlier with the respect to the bombing 
and good Germans and bad Germans. What was it that the 
German people should have done? I felt that while it was 
all too easy for an American to pronounce judgments and to 
say that they did have a choice, nonetheless I didn't think 
that Hitler could have been sustained if he didn't have 
mass support. True, there was a reign of terror. Again, 
it's hard for someone else to say what others should have 
done. But your ultimate option is your own life. Where 
you're dealing with the life of civilization, the next 
generation, you may not want to withhold that power, 
whatever the risk may be. So when I spoke to these kids, I 
wrote an article with the title "Dinner for Twenty-six in 
Berlin" in the Saturday Review. 

BASIAGO: You mentioned that in a Saturday Review 
editorial, scaring up all these provisions for a dinner. 
COUSINS: I had a very interesting discussion with the 
students about these issues. As I remember it, they said 
that if you were faced with that yourself, you probably 
would discover that your convictions would not be as strong 
as you now make them out to be. Maybe they were right. I 
certainly feel that the danger of fascism for any nation. 


whatever its history--and the other direction up to that 
point may have been that dangerous--is great and it must be 
taken seriously. We did have an interesting discussion 
there. I did express the viewpoint to these young people 
that you can't have ultimate power--which in the definition 
of democracy the ultimate power belongs to the people-- 
unless you have a sense of ultimate responsibility 
yourself, unless you exercise that ultimate option. 
BASIAGO: Were you suggesting that they had failed in that 

BASIAGO: I believe they all reported that they were 
operating under fear. That they weren't anti-Semitic, or 
particularly pro-Hitler, but in fact felt they couldn't 
COUSINS: That's right. 


NOVEMBER 23, 1987 

COUSINS: All these questions are matters of proximity and 
degree. I would suppose that most people would hold back 
on expressing viewpoints if it involved specific dangers to 
themselves. You can't blame them for that. But when the 
issues become transcendent, the question of responsibility 
becomes transcendent, too. That's what I meant when I said 
that we always had that ultimate option of what you want to 
do with your life. I think there comes a point at which we 
all have to decide what we want to give our lives to. 
BASIAGO: When the group that joined you in Germany 
returned to New York City in October of 1948, Hays asserted 
that the Russians were the greatest democratizing influence 
in Germany. The Russians, he said, have given the German 
people such a bitter taste of totalitarian rule in their 
zone that they appreciate the values of democracy. Any 
danger of Germany becoming communist has been completely 
upset by what the Russians have done in East Germany. Is 
that from direct evidence or hearsay of what he was getting 
in the American side? 

COUSINS: We went into East Berlin. We spoke to Germans 
under circumstances in which they felt secure. We spoke to 
union leaders in Germany. There's no doubt-- just look at 
the difference between what was happening in East Berlin 


and West Berlin--that the greatest argument for a free 
society was being supplied by the Russians in East 
Berlin. You could see it in the difference between the two 
societies. Same people--change the format--and you get 
tremendous differences in terms of the energy of people, 
the energy they put into their lives on different levels. 
It was not just the bright lights of West Berlin or 
Frankfurt. It was not just the cabarets flourishing in 
West Germany and almost totally absent in East Germany. It 
was not the lack of visible energy, which is generally 
represented by new buildings. It was represented by the 
way the people looked, the way the people talked, and what 
was happening to human beings. I think that the Russians 
were giving them a great demonstration of what the 
difference between the two societies was. I was not aware 
of many people from West Germany who tried to defect. But 
they had put up the wall to keep the East Germans from 
defecting, and they didn't always succeed. These things 
had to be taken seriously. It was not just a matter of 
American propaganda, either. 

BASIAGO: I was going to address that issue. It seems that 
the Germans were learning about democracy from negative 
example. Hays-- 

COUSINS: Hays was being ironical, of course. 
BASIAGO: He suggested that he was disappointed, because he 


felt the Germans thought the Americans were treating them 
like kindergartners. 

COUSINS: Well, I disagreed with Hays, because I felt that 
on the negative side--learning about the virtues of 
democracy by experiencing the horrors of totalitarianism-- 
was less than they'd already learned out of Hitler. Hays 
was giving the Russians too much credit, it seemed to me, 
even though he wanted to make a point of the contrast 
between West and East Berlin. So he was being ironical, 
but it didn't seem to me that the Germans especially needed 
instruction in that regard, after a dozen years or so under 
Adolf Hitler. 

BASIAGO: I found a dissonance between realizing that these 
people had been under a fascist government for twelve years 
and then his suggesting that the Russians were teaching 
them something. He did seem to suggest, though, that he 
was disappointed with the U.S. government effort. He 
foresaw the day when the U.S. government's control over the 
German media would have to be dismantled. He felt that all 
the initiatives toward freedom were not coming from the 
German people but from the Americans, apparently to little 
effect even on the western side. Are you saying that you 
disagree with that summary on his part? 

COUSINS: There was ample evidence at the time to support 
the summary, but it's possible that we were extrapolating 


from a rather narrow base. I had the same feeling in 
Japan, where the officers in the occupation were 
complaining that the Japanese had no initative, couldn't 
understand democratic institutions, were an immitative 
society economically--it would be very difficult to get 
them moving. I remember thinking in Japan that we might be 
due for a rather interesting surprise in terms of whether 
they had the energy or not, whether they had any initiative 
or not, or ingenuity. And in Germany, I could wonder too 
at the fact that as we walked down the street, the Germans 
would step off the sidewalk to clear the way for us and tip 
their hats because they knew we were Americans and they 
regarded us as conquerors. The subservience which had 
grown up under Hitler of course- -certainly had been 
fostered by it--was carried over, but this didn't mean that 
underneath it all there was a total absence of arrogance. 
I think they were accommodating, just as the Japanese 
were. They wanted us to get the hell out of there as fast 
as we could, and they were perfectly willing to do 
everything possible. They would say anything or do 
anything just as long as they could get us out of there. 
BASIAGO: He said, in regard to the Germans, they want less 
preaching and more example. Interesting comment there. 
Upon your return, you voiced the following sentiment. You 
said, "the world today is no closer to a real workable 


peace than six months ago. We do not have a platform on 
which we could build enduring peace. We lack the machinery 
through which peace can be achieved." Was there anything 
in particular that you saw in Germany that contributed to--? 
COUSINS: Well, of course I was blowing my world federalist 
bugle, just as my wife [Ellen Kopf Cousins] tends to view 
the world through the optics of nutrition. I was viewing 
the world through the optics of federalism, making every 
case I can--or using every case--to support that particular 
objective. It was true, of course, but I was perhaps 
glossing over immediate factors in the attempt to get 
support for my particular cause. 

BASIAGO: You mentioned that Baldwin apparently didn't 
join, even though the Times had reported that. I found in 
the archives that you were a member of the national board 
of directors of the ACLU. 
COUSINS: That's true. 

BASIAGO: When did that start, how long did that tenure 
run, and why did you dissociate yourself from the ACLU, if 
in fact that's what you did? I'm just wondering about your 
relationship with that organization. 

COUSINS: Yes. I was invited to join the board of ACLU 
perhaps in the forties, while still in my teens, I think. 
We would have weekly lunches at one of the hotels, at which 
civil liberties [cases] that had come before the ACLU would 


be discussed, as well as the affairs of the organization 
itself. I think back now on some of the people whose names 
that I remember: Osmond [K.] Frankel, Morris [L.] Ernst, 
Arthur Garfield Hayes, Whitney North Seymour, who was a 
very prominent Republican, Baldwin- -there could be a dozen 
or more. You had the feeling you were in the boiler room 
of human rights issues. What was especially interesting to 
me was to see the way the legal aspects--it was Osmond K. 
Frankel --intertwined with human ones, where each case would 
be discussed, not just in human and political terms, but in 
terms of legal precedents. You had a great many lawyers 
who gave you the kind of education that we had during the 
intricate Iran-Contra hearings, where they talk about 
constitutional law, and also in the confirmation hearings 
of Judge [Robert H.] Bork, where [George P.] Shultz was 
talking about American constitutional history. So these 
were, for me at least, sessions of profound educational 

I never left my ACLU concerns, but as my work became 
increasingly cumbersome and I became the president of the 
[United World] Federalists--and that took a great deal of 
time too-- I had to make a decision about how much I could 
expect to carry responsibly, so I just drifted away from it 
organizationally, but not in terms of moral commitment. 
BASIAGO: Did any particular cases in their discussion 


leave their mark, during the time when you still were 
associated with them? 

COUSINS: Yes, there were some cases that involved 
protection of Nazis and right-wing totalitarianisms. The 
consensus of the board, especially among the lawyers, was 
that you're dealing with constitutional rights. We had the 
obligation to protect the rights of Nazis to denounce the 
United States and to express their viewpoints. These made 
for some interesting debates. I raised the question- -not 
just with respect to the defense of Nazis, but the defense 
of communists- -whether it was essential to draw the line, 
as Justice [Oliver Wendell] Holmes did when he said free 
speech doesn't guarantee the right of anyone to shout 
"Fire" falsely in a crowded theater. It seemed to me that 
to protect the legal and human rights of those who would 
destroy the legal and human rights of others was stretching 
a bit. 

I suppose I'm a Jef fersonian, and he went very far in 
terms of his defense of the principle of free speech, 
feeling that any exception results in a danger for all. I 
could recognize this, but the nature of the exception had 
to be considered nonetheless. If free speech didn't 
include the right of totalitarian vandals to deface a 
synagogue, was that defacement any less real or significant 
in terms of oral defacement, people shouting on a street 


corner, which would have the effect of depriving large 
numbers of people of their basic rights? Did they have an 
absolute right to do that? I found it very difficult to 
accept the notion of absolutism in any area of life. 
BASIAGO: Do you ever discuss this with Baldwin as the ACLU 
seemed to drift farther and farther in that direction--in 
the absolute direction? 

COUSINS: I had some interesting discussions with 
Baldwin. Of course, Baldwin, you must understand, was a 
philosophical anarchist. He's a wonderful free spirit, he 
loved nature, would go off in the summertime, take off all 
his clothes, and be oblivious to other people around. You 
need people like that in society, just to leaven life, I 
suppose, and to keep things from going to the opposite 
extreme. As I think I indicated before, I'm sort of a 
miximalist. I think there's a point at which the free 
speech of society itself can be jeopardized, confronting us 
with a problem: What do you do about those who use free 
speech to end free speech? Not an easy question, and I 
don't think you can formulate a code that can deal with all 
situations. But neither do I think that you can formulate 
an absolutist code without a danger of bringing down the 

BASIAGO: You suggested that you left the ACLU board for 
your work with the world federalists. I guess that would 


be in the mid-fifties, then? 

COUSINS: Yes. I've had some differences with the ACLU 
since that time. For example, I resigned my membership in 
ACLU over the issue of advertising. A question came up: 
Did free speech require that newspapers take advertising 
for cigarettes? ACLU locally or nationally, I forget 
which, contended that newspapers had to take such 
advertising. It was difficult for me to accept that 
decision. I don't think that free speech was involved in 
that question--whether advertisers could force newspapers 
to take advertising that was against the public interest. 
Again, it's very difficult to define the point at which the 
principle comes to play, and you had to take each case on 
its merits I suppose, but where do you draw the line? Does 
this mean that newspapers not only should accept condom 
advertising, which I can understand in the present 
circumstances, but should accept graphic illustrations to 
go with it? Does that involve free speech? The question 
of public taste, good sense, is involved in all these 
issues. While you're trying to adhere to a principle, you 
can't exempt yourself from the necessity to apply as much 
intelligence as you can bring to bear on any issue and ask 
what the consequences of any action may be. 

BASIAGO: When you left the ACLU board in the mid-fifties, 
were you entirely content with the ideological positions 


they were taking up until that point? 

COUSINS: Probably as much as any single member of the 
board, and we all had disagreements. I mentioned some of 
them, especially whether the principle of free speech is 
absolute as it concerns those who would destroy free 
speech. We all had a difference of opinion about that. I 
would not have left the board on that account. 
BASIAGO: So your disagreements really came then in the 
sixties? Or even later, with the Skokie [Illinois] march 
and other test cases or-- 

COUSINS: I don't think I would have left the board over 
those particular issues, anyway, taking into account the 
large good being done by ACLU. 

BASIAGO: Let's take a look at the MacArthur consultation. 
Here's your account of your dealings with MacArthur. It's 
very brief: "I had an opportunity to get to know Douglas 
MacArthur during the period of the American occupation of 
Japan, of which he was head. I went to Japan at his 
invitation, as a consultant on the broad range of problems 
associated with the democratization of Japan, more 
particularly the area of human rights. I had several 
meetings with the general, apart from separate sessions 
with key members of his staff. Our discussions covered a 
wide range of subjects, including the decision to drop the 
atomic bombs and the prospects of peace in the postwar 


world." I want to take these facts one at a time and kind 

of expand. 

COUSINS: Did that come out of our interviews? 

BASIAGO: That's from The Pathology of Power. You 

mentioned that you had gone at his invitation, I imagine as 

a result of the Clay trip. 

COUSINS: That's what I think, yes. 

BASIAGO: Now, you were apparently developing credentials 

in the area of human rights at that point. Had he read 

your editorials from the Saturday Review? Were there other 

things that--? 

COUSINS: There may have been some people on his staff who 

suggested it to him. 

BASIAGO: So he knew about you primarily from the Clay 

connection, then? 

COUSINS: I think so, that would be my guess. 

BASIAGO: What did you discuss during the separate sessions 

with the key members of his staff, and who were they? 

COUSINS: I was especially interested in education and was 

given briefings about the wide range of problems involved 

in restructuring the educational system of Japan. I found 

the members of the general's staff to be extremely well 

informed. They were highly credentialed educators in the 

United States. I had a chance to visit several 

universities--International Christian University, Tokyo 


University, among them--to talk to professors and students, 
through interpreters, to be sure. I gave several lectures 
there and also in Hiroshima. Names like Alley, Professor 
Alley, and Nugent, somehow stick in my mind. I may have 
written about some of that, I don't know. But I had a very 
high regard for what the occupation was doing. I thought 
Americans would be somewhat surprised to learn the extent 
to which we were seeking to create a society and not just 
to pacify it. 

I had long talks with Wolf Ladejinsky, who was the 
architect of the land reform program in Japan. He 
introduced me to other members of the staff, young, 
vigorous, farseeing, excited by the opportunity they had to 
do something significant. Especially excited about the 
implications of land reform and other social measures, as 
representing an alternative to what the Soviet [Union] was 
trying to offer, and to prove that you could have social 
justice and freedom at the same time. Which has been the 
real issue, it seems to me. One tends to be juxtaposed 
against the other. So this was an adventure in learning 
for me. I got much more out of it than I gave. There was 
very little that I had to offer of any value. 
BASIAGO: By 1955 in his Los Angeles speech that you refer 
to in The Pathology of Power, we find MacArthur expressing 
his views on the scourge of war and calling for the 


abolition of war through world law. You mentioned that you 

had discussed the atomic bombings with him, I guess, in 

1949. What was his position? He was another of that group 

that believed it was a mistake that Truman had made. 

COUSINS: He saw no justification for the dropping of the 


BASIAGO: There's a paradox- - 

COUSINS: At least not in terms that had been advanced by 

Truman. Paradox, you say? 

BASIAGO: Well, the paradox I find in MacArthur is that if 

we explore his disagreement with Truman over pursuing 

military victory in Korea, we find a leader who believed-- 

in this case, even at the risk of encountering the 

Chinese--that once a war has begun, it's essential to win 

it. We find MacArthur really advocating both positions, it 

seems, during this period in the late forties and in the 


COUSINS: Well, as I think I've said in various places, a 

man comes to life in his paradoxes. MacArthur the soldier 

was not always consistent with MacArthur the philosopher or 

MacArthur the Jef fersonian. The war in Korea did not, I 

think in MacArthur 's view, involve the underlying 

principles that he later defined in his speech in Los 

Angeles in 1955. MacArthur was talking about a war between 

major powers. He was talking about the implications of 


nuclear energy in warfare. If he could have avoided the 
Korean War, I have no doubt he would have done it. But 
once the war had started, he was called upon to fight it. 
He didn't understand how you fight a war without fighting 

The notion of limited warfare was also basic in 
Vietnam, in terms of the American position. It's a very 
difficult one. You send an army into the field and then 
try to calibrate the amount of action they can take. You 
send an individual into combat and try to have a measured 
response, so that you won't get into political problems. 
It's not easy. I thought the notion of limited objectives, 
both in Korea and Vietnam, was absolutely correct, 
considering the larger implications. But I've often 
wondered what my position would have been if I had been an 
officer in either Vietnam or Korea and led my men into 
battle to what end? To hold the line? What line? To 
shoot back? How many times? How many rounds of fire would 
be legitimate under these circumstances? Warfare itself 
denies all this reason. Perhaps it is more necessary to 
try to apply it, as I've suggested, in the case of the 
decision to drop the bomb. 

But I can certainly understand the position of those 
who operate in a different context, as MacArthur did at the 
time. I believed that Truman was right. I still believe 


that Truman was right, but that doesn't mean that 
everything that MacArthur did in his whole life was wrong, 
or that MacArthur the philosopher should be spurned because 
MacArthur the general had a dispute with Truman. It's 
rather ironic that, just in terms of how far you carry a 
military principle, you had MacArthur identified as someone 
who wanted to go all the way in Korea. But what about 
Truman in Japan with the atomic bomb? Truman was super- 
MacArthur, with respect to the decision to drop the bomb. 
MacArthur there wanted restraint, because MacArthur, like 
[Dwight D.] Eisenhower and [George C] Marshall, said that 
you don't apply force where it's not needed. At least he 
held to that. He felt it was needed in Korea. He may have 
been wrong about that. These situations are full of grays 
and infinite gradations of colors. We always try to 
construct a principle, I suppose, that holds up under all 
circumstances, as between MacArthur in Korea and Truman in 
Japan. The idea was, let's press through the victory. We 
can ask ourselves which one was the more violent. 
Certainly not MacArthur, who felt that you could end the 
war without the bomb. 

BASIAGO: You write how MacArthur viewed Japanese 
militarism as one of the greatest threats to free peoples 
in the twentieth century and that rearming Japan to check 
the Soviets would be a disaster, he felt. Instead, the 


U.S. had to develop, nurture, and strengthen countervailing 
democratic forces in Japan. Did he outline any role for 
you or other journalists in that mission? 
COUSINS: For example? I'm not sure I understand your 

BASIAGO: Well, in your discussions with him, apparently he 
made you aware that there was a need for a democratizing 
influence in Japan? 

BASIAGO: I'm just wondering, later-- For instance, could 
the Hiroshima Maidens Project be viewed as a bridge to 

COUSINS: Yes, he would have supported-- As a matter of 
fact, when I told him that I was interested in carrying out 
some medical programs in Hiroshima, not knowing exactly 
what they would be at that time, he was very encouraging. 
It was then that he said he didn't think that the bomb was 
necessary, as a matter of fact, repeated it then. So like 
his successor. General [John E.] Hull, I think he would 
have supplied his own plane, as General Hull did when the 
State Department opposed the project. 

BASIAGO: I see. MacArthur viewed as a great accom- 
plishment, of course, the Japanese peace constitution, 
limiting their defense expenditures to 1 percent or less of 
their GNP, What's your view of the way in which their 


economy and ours evolved in the decades since then? How 
much can be credited to MacArthur ' s attempt to check their 
militarism? How much of their economic growth--? 
COUSINS: Well, as I've written, Japan has been very shrewd 
in this respect. Whether or not they made a deliberate 
calculation to achieve a certain economic end, I don't 
know. But if they had made such a calculation, what has 
happened would not be inconsistent with it. What has 
happened is that the Japanese, in their attempt to achieve 
economic power in the world, knowing that they'd failed in 
terms of their effort to exert military power-- But in the 
pursuit of economic power, they've been very wise. First 
of all, they recognize that a military program for a 
country such as Japan, which lacks resources of its own, 
would deprive the economic sector of resources. Or if it 
didn't deprive them of it, it would increase the price for 
it, and make that competitive advantage that they sought a 
little more difficult. They also recognized, it seems to 
me, that a military program uses up national energies. 
They needed those energies for their program of economic 
power in the world and competitiveness. On the matter of 
taxation, the money has to come from somewhere. And if it 
comes out of Japan, it comes out of a total national 
entity, which is how they see themselves. So that program 
of militarism, they were wise enough to realize, interfered 


with the emphasis they wanted to put into their economic 
thrust. I've often asked myself, suppose someone else 
would have paid Japan to rearm, would they have done it? I 
suspect they might have. But if it came out of their own 
hide this would be disadvantageous to them. They've been 
very farseeing, by identifying manufacturing as a potential 
source of power and greatness in the world and at home. 
They've been consistent, they've been correct. They've 
achieved, and are achieving, their objectives. 

I think back to the occupation and my discussions with 
some of the American economic people. I remember seeing 
them spread their hands and say that it was going to be 
very difficult to make Japan self-sufficient or a 
functioning economy. Some of them were saying: They can 
imitate, they can't create, the initiative is somehow 
lacking. I look back on that now with sort of a 
wistfulness. All those discussions about how to get the 
Japanese moving and how their products would break down. I 
remember one of the members of the MacArthur staff showing 
me a pair of binoculars he had bought at a knocked-down 
price. He said, "Let me show you something." He unscrewed 
the end of it and showed that one of the prisms was 
cracked. He said, "This is the way it is with most of 
their products." That man, if he's still alive now, is 
probably driving a Japanese car because he can't get an 


American car to perform as well. So there's a certain 
quality of unreality to my experience in Japan. 

But Japan, I think, is on its way to world economic 
supremacy. I think China's going to follow suit and accept 
Japanese leadership in that respect. I think that the real 
challenge to American capitalism is coming not from 
communism but from another capitalist state, Japan, which 
is using the human mind in ways that demonstrate the proof 
of its contention that the ultimate resource is the human 
mind. At a time when the United States is cutting back on 
higher education, Japan is putting everything it can into 
the education of its people and into initiative and 
encouraging its people to think for themselves, a society 
which, according to convention, is hidebound and where no 
one steps out of line. 

But the Japanese people, it seems to me, refute the 
notion that people can't change. You walk around Japan 
today and you see six-foot Japanese, long-legged, willowy 
Japanese women, young to be sure. When I spoke to one of 
my Japanese friends about that, it seemed to me he was 
ascribing it to free will. He may well have been right. 
Because what he said was that the Japanese got tired of 
being looked down upon, and they didn't like looking up to 
others. At international conferences, there would be these 
psychological disadvantages, where others would tower over 


them and look down on them. They felt disadvantaged and 
belittled, quite literally. They decided that that was a 
lot of nonsense. 

They didn't want to put up with it anymore, so they 
decided to become six-footers. They were smart enough in 
the attainment of that objective to realize that you don't 
sit on your feet as kids--which had been a part of their 
culture- -and not be short- legged, and that you have to have 
a much more balanced diet than they had. So they 
deliberately set about sitting on chairs, giving kids milk, 
good foods, vitamins, and exercise. They responded as 
other peoples have done. So as I say, you now find 
baseball teams in Japan that physically measure up. The 
next development in Japan would be football teams. Whether 
they will have three-hundred-pounders right off the bat no 
one knows. But physically they will not be giving away too 
much. So as I say, the scope for free will in producing 
individual development or in fulfilling potentiality also 
applies to a nation. I expect that the center of world 
leadership, economic and therefore political, will 
gravitate towards Japan in the next fifty years, maybe 


DECEMBER 21, 1987 

BASIAGO: I want to explore your relationship with 
Jawaharlal Nehru-- 

COUSINS: "Waharlal," as he called himself. 

BASIAGO: --prime minister of India during its early years 
as an independent republic. Your Talks with Nehru came at 
the end of a two-month tour of Ceylon, Pakistan, and 
India. Authorization for the trip had come under the 
Mundt-Smith Act of 1948, which aimed at improving 
understanding on a fairly direct basis between Americans 
and other peoples. Who invited you on the trip in which 
you'd represent the American people? 

COUSINS: George [C] McGhee was then assistant secretary 
of state for that part of the world, which would run all 
the way from Turkey right up to Burma, I believe. George 
McGhee- -Rhodes scholar, engineer, petroleum geologist--was 
the son-in-law of E, [L.] De Golyer, who had owned the 
Saturday Review [of Literature] . Before McGhee became 
assistant secretary of state, I spoke to him about my 
concern about India, and the pressures on India from two 
sources, the Soviet Union and [the People's Republic of] 
China. I'd been reading about all the political pressures 
inside India, which seemed to me to have all the 
ingredients for a revolution. Historically, communism had 


come in by way of counterrevolution, and you always had the 
intermediate democratic-socialist government. I felt that 
if Nehru's attempt to keep India free of outside control 
failed, or if Nehru's attempt to keep India democratic and 
free failed, that the world majority would slip over. So I 
had a great sense of urgency about India. I shared this 
with George McGhee several times, probably at De Golyer ' s 
house in Dallas. He was equally concerned. When he became 
assistant secretary of state for that part of the world, he 
arranged for me to go to India under the terms of the 
Smith-Mundt Act. I think I was probably the first under 
that act to go to that part of the world. They arranged 
lectures for me in a number of places: India, Pakistan, 
and Ceylon. In India, there would be Delhi, Madras, 
Bombay, Bangalore. In Pakistan, there would be Lahore. 
And in Ceylon, as it was then known, Colombo. I went I 
think around Christmastime, probably just after the 
beginning of the year. 

When I was in New Delhi, I got a note from the prime 
minister inviting me to lunch. I thought this might be a 
good opportunity to get his views on a wide range of 
subjects. I arranged with the USIA [United States 
Information Agency] to have subsequent talks recorded. We 
met several times in the garden, and on a few of those 
occasions his daughter Indira [Nehru Gandhi] sat in the 


circle listening to it. He also invited me to have dinner 
at the PM's house. I got to meet other members of the 
family--his sister, his brother-in-law, and some of the 
other members of the cabinet. 

There were some fun evenings, as I remember it, when 
he was in a playful mood. There was a yogi who was very 
adept with a bow and arrow who could hit a string at thirty 
paces. I'd been subjected to this myself in Aligarh, so I 
was familiar with it. You sit in a chair and the garland 
is suspended by thin strings. The marksman takes dead aim 
at the strings--the garland's only a foot or so above your 
head--and hits the strings. The garland comes down on your 
shoulders, to the cheers of all concerned and to the great 
relief of the man who's garlanded. Nehru looked around the 
room, and he said, "If the marksman slips, which of the 
gentlemen here would produce the greatest celebration in 
the country?" He said, without being personal, "Anyone who 
is the minister of the treasury would undoubtedly have that 
effect." This poor man smiled rather wanly, I thought. 
Nehru pushed him into the chair, and the marksman, 
pretending to be drunk, staggered to his position, and very 
shakily aimed the bow and arrow at the head of the 
treasurer--being cheered on--and then let fly, of course 
neatly cutting the chords above the garland. Nehru went 
around making jokes with everyone. I had never seen him as 


playful . 

BASIAGO: I'd like to take the conversation back to the 
initial trip that led to this fascinating encounter with 
Nehru. Operating under the aegis of the State Department, 
were you obligated to make certain points, or was there an 
understanding that your talks would have certain themes? 
COUSINS: They never asked me what I wanted to talk about 
and imposed no requirements at all. It took me a little 
while to get into a groove, because clearly what I was 
talking about at first was not getting across. I got a 
whiff of this from some of the more cultural officers. I 
spoke about the origins of the U.S. Constitution and in so 
doing I spent a great deal of time reviewing historical 
antecedents, the failure of the Greek states to 
confederate, the history of the Amphictyonic League. 
Hamilton's and Madison's observations about those failures, 
or historical events that were scrutinized by the American 
founding fathers, Adams's and Jefferson's misunder- 
standings, the supposed rivalry between Hamilton and 
Jefferson, which unfortunately had been made into absolutes 
and were not as severe as we seem to think. But in any 
event, in talking along those lines, I'd lost my 
audience. Little by little, I tried to focus on America in 
the contemporary world, and that seemed to go a little 


BASIAGO: You wrote that you encountered astounding 
misconceptions about life in America and about our purposes 
in the world at large that were not far removed from the 
stereotyped pictures generally associated with deliberate 
propaganda. What were these misconceptions, and how do you 
think they were fostered? 

COUSINS: Thirty-five years ago or more the view of 
American civilization that existed abroad (and not just in 
the East) had to do first of all with the nature of 
American capitalism. That view came out of literature, 
some of it novels. The period of the twenties and thirties 
was a period in which self-criticism in America was very 
severe, whether we're talking about the novels of Sinclair 
Lewis, who was certainly not ideological, or John Dos 
Passes, who was, or Theodore Dreiser, and then a little 
later, John Steinbeck. It was a period in the United 
States of deep introspection and feelings in some respects 
of cultural inadequacy or inferiority. You had [H. L.] 
Mencken's "booboisie, " the land of the boobs. Then you 
also had the profound ideological undertone at the time, 
all during the thirties, where intellectuals were thought 
to have something missing if they weren't Marxist. That 
was the fashion. So you had materials originating in 
America that created impressions abroad. But then you also 
had other observers abroad who felt that the United States 


was exactly where the world shouldn't go. There was a 
combination of serious criticism, scorn, but also there 
were a great many misconceptions--misconceptions about the 
economic and social situation of the United States. 
Misconceptions that had to do with stratification of 
American society, socially, economically, and 
philosophically . 

To many foreign observers it was only a matter of time 
before the United States would follow the Soviet Union. By 
1950, this had been somewhat allayed or modified, largely 
as a result of the New Deal and the fact that America was 
victorious in the war. There was new respect, I think, for 
the United States. The old view of America that had 
existed twenty-five or thirty years earlier was beginning 
to reemerge, I thought. Even so, there were a great many 
misconceptions that were fairly well entrenched, certainly 
the attitude towards the racial problem in the United 
States. Everything being relative, the problems with the 
blacks in the United States- -real and severe in its own 
terms--could be compared to the situation of the average 
man in the United States. I was saying that everything 
being relative, you can see that the situation of 
minorities in the United States, however severe in our own 
terms, as certainly perhaps far better than the situation 
that you can find elsewhere with respect to the general 


population. But it was important, it seemed to me, that 
other people have a clear idea of the actual situation. I 
didn't think that we should minimize the problem, but I 
thought we should state it for what it was. I don't think 
that enough people were aware of genuine elements of 
progress. I felt that these elements of progress ought to 
be stated for what they were, which I did. But that was 
probably the number one question that was asked. 
BASIAGO: You mentioned that the race relations in the U.S. 
came up virtually at every talk. You mentioned that if you 
spoke about education in the U.S. or about journalism or 
about books on American foreign policy, the first question 
was about lynchings or segregation. I find that this was 
in 1951, several years really before the events at 
Montgomery and Selma and Birmingham pushed civil rights to 
prominence in the world press. Did you ever get an 
explanation why racial relations in the U.S. was the number 
one topic in these nations? 

COUSINS: It was self-evident. These people had color 
themselves, you see, and they identified with brown and 
yellow skin in the United States, which were the subjects 
of discrimination. It was just a matter of almost total 

BASIAGO: I'd also like to explore the UN [United Nations] 
vote-representation dilemma in 1951 and test its impact. 


To briefly summarize, the Asian nations resented as unfair 
the fact that as populous as they were, they got only one 
vote each in the United Nations. For example. Sirdar 
Singh, president of the Indian League of America, noted 
that twenty Latin American nations, accounting for only one 
seventh of the world's population, had three more votes 
than the Asian countries. Did this spark any resentment as 
you engaged in your speaking tour of these countries? 
COUSINS: I don't recall that the voting system of the UN 
was a major concern expressed at those meetings. Actually, 
the United States raised exactly the same concerns. At 
that time we had at least two hundred million people. 
There were countries in the world--four or five--which 
might have a total of no more than a million or two. So 
they had four or five times as much power as we did. This 
was as much an American concern as it was an Indian 
concern. But a lot of these places had black populations, 
so that that would have been an easy question to answer if 
it had come up. Did I say that that had come up? 
BASIAGO: I was just curious if it had. I realize that 
contemporary with this, it was coming up in American 
newspapers. The Third World, as it would become known, was 
being reported as being very concerned about this 
representation issue. You discussed with Nehru some of the 
hostility you also encountered in India. Apparently, 


America's delay in sending wheat to India at a time of 
widespread hunger and approaching famine was the cause. 
Just to give some background information, why was the wheat 
delayed, and what could you say to the people of India 
regarding our tardiness on that account? 

COUSINS: I haven't thought about this for three decades or 
more so I'm not altogether fresh in my memory. But just 
rummaging through my mind, it seemed to me that there was 
an attempt in the Congress to tie wheat to certain 
political conditions. Some of the congressmen wanted to 
hold back the wheat until they could get assurances from 
India politically that they would find satisfying. I was 
outraged by that. I don't know whether that tallies with 
your specific research, but this was my very vague 

BASIAGO: Well, you found widespread misconceptions about 
the U.S. in these nations. You also admitted, in writing 
about the interview with Nehru, that you had some 
misconceptions going into the experience. You wrote that, 
"Education in the United States paid some attention to the 
history and culture of Western peoples, but very little or 
none to the people of the Orient. All this resulted in a 
poor American background for an approach to the Indian 
people." You later broadened this point in "Confessions of 
a Miseducated Man," one of your Saturday Review essays. 


How were you ill-prepared to understand the Orient? What 
misapprehensions did you have that you found dispelled by 
your speaking tour or with your friendship with Nehru or 

COUSINS: They were not dispelled but confirmed. I think I 
used jthe term "provincialism of Western scholars," Those 
are the years when I would attend--or participate in-- 
annual meetings called the Conference on Science, Philosophy, 
and Religion, [and Their Relation to the American Way of 
Life] , the direct purpose of which was to produce an 
increased respect for universal factors. But there were 
very few if any Eastern scholars at those meetings. When 
they spoke about barriers, it was generally the barrier 
between science, philosophy, and religion, not the barriers 
that grew out of geography or different cultures. But 
even among the advanced scholars, I was aware of a shortage 
of knowledge. You had the Great Books, a series put out by 
[Robert Maynard] Hutchins and [Mortimer J.] Adler. These 
were my good friends. I had written an editorial which 
they didn't like, talking about the fact that there was a 
problem in labeling. Later they did, I think, redefine the 
series to be the Great Books of the Western World. 

We were half educated, or maybe one-third educated, 
because that part of the world was certainly less than a 
third of the whole. It was another indication of the fact 


that we're still living in a rather primitive period in 
human history. But you look at the Great Books, which 
presumably represented the legacy of knowledge, and it was 
rather arrogant. You didn't find many of the great books 
of the East, or any of the great experiences of the East, 
that contributed to human knowledge. I'm not sure if we're 
completely out of that yet. I don't want anything I have 
said to indicate that I think we're not still a very 
primitive species. I think we are. 

BASIAGO: Personally, were there any misapprehensions that 
you had about the Orient that you found dispelled, going in 
miseducated, any discoveries that you made? 
COUSINS: It's not so much a matter of going there with a 
fund of supposed knowledge that was erroneous, as going 
there with very little knowledge and being surprised by the 
fact that they are ahead of us in some respects, or on par 
at least, in exploring the same questions. Somewhere I 
think I said that all the basic questions that one would 
expect to hear at a conference of Western philosophers- - 
questions about the basic nature of man, or the species, 
whether humans are basically altruistic or combative and 
competitive or whether we enjoy free will or are subject to 
determinism. These same questions that one would hear at 
Western meetings of philosophers are the ones that animated 
East discussions as well. I began to realize that in human 


experience it doesn't make much of a difference where you 
are. After a while the same basic questions emerge, and 
we're all forced to confront them. They have different 
accents, to be sure, because problems may be more intense 
in one place than another, but the problem tends to dictate 
the response. Philosophers have always been concerned 
about finding theories for questions which so far have 
never been definitively answered. 
BASIAGO: Such as? 

COUSINS: Where did we come from? Why are we here? What 
is the meaning of life? Are human beings basically good or 
basically evil? All the questions I spoke about before. 
BASIAGO: Let's move on to a leader you described as 
someone who'd be right at home in the company of Hamilton, 
Madison, and Jay. One of the interesting themes that Nehru 
brought up in the first interview that you conducted with 
him was this issue of deindividualization and brutalization 
of the individual man in the modern world. He spoke of it 
in the context of the mob violence that he had been seeing 
in his nation. But I suspected that he might have been 
making a broader point. Was he? 

COUSINS: I had come there with my own agenda. While I 
wanted to make this interview appear to be precisely that, 
I was trying to force him, lead him, into sharing my own 
prejudice about world federalism. Almost everything I said 


was calculated to set a stage for him in which he could 
emerge as a world federalist, too. He, on the other hand, 
had his agenda for the interview, and he was concerned 
about the attempt of the American foreign-policy makers to 
take a "we-or-they" approach to the world, which is the 
"you've got to be pro-democratic or pro-communist, and if 
you're not pro-democratic you're pro-communist." American 
policy makers were concerned, as policy makers generally 
are, about balance of power, those situations, and India 
was seen in that light. He was trying to call my attention 
to a somewhat different view of the world--that countries 
had their own problems, which may not be ours, and 
certainly they had to interpret what was happening in a the 
world in a perhaps broader, more sophisticated light than 
we-or-they, or communism or Russia versus-- Or U.S. versus 
the USSR. This I think probably is evident throughout the 
talks, where we will talk around it. I would keep coming 
back to the question of world law. He would keep coming 
back to the question of diversity. I would bring up the 
concerns of American policy makers about the world, and he 
would try to suggest that these are not the only major 
concerns of the world. 

BASIAGO: You seem to disagree over the source of fear in 
the modern world, to broadly characterize it. I believe 
this is really what you're just describing. You mentioned 


that you looked to the creation of "mechanisms of world law 
to quell the threats of aggression which made the v/orld 
such a fearsome place, " while he seemed to look to the 
individual. "Individuals everywhere," he reasoned, "would 
have to liberate themselves from the prison of their 
fears." Was this not a kind of a Western and Eastern split 
in your outlooks? 

COUSINS: I'm not sure they were, because he was speaking 
as much as an Westerner as he was an Easterner. He in fact 
had been criticized because the philosophical frame within 
which he seemed to think and speak was more readily 
associated with the West than the East. He had been 
educated as much in the West as in the East. He was 
perhaps closer to being a world citizen than almost anyone 
in high place I had ever met. But I think that in his 
emphasis on the individual, he was certainly not too 
different from Jefferson or Thoreau or Franklin or Locke. 
This was not so much I think a typical Eastern view as it 
was his own view. He was an amalgam of East and West. 
When we think about Eastern philosophies, you're 
thinking not just about a single school, you're thinking 
about a wide range. Iqbal, in the Muslim world, Confucius, 
the whole philosophical component of Buddhism, the 
philosophical component of Shintoism. We were making a 
great mistake, it seems to me, in our own view of the East, 


in thinking that we're talking about an entity known as 
Eastern philosophies, as contrasted to Western 
philosophies. It was difficult for me to see a coherent or 
even dominant Eastern strain, even though today, for 
example, thirty years later, we still tend to think in 
terms of Eastern philosophies. This is not to say that a 
great many of them don't have things in common. But one 
can also find that they have a great deal in common with 
the philosophies of the West, too. So the notion of an 
entity--being able to throw a loop around Eastern 
philosophies and say, "There it is, and I can rope it in"-- 
has never seemed to me to have too much validity. 
BASIAGO: I'm just broadly characterizing. I felt that you 
look to things external from the individual, governmental 
structures, that would bring about world peace, world law, 
world government, while he seemed to place his faith in the 
human spirit on an individual level. Was that gap ever 
bridged as your friendship developed? Was there kind of a 
cross-fertilization of your views on that? 
COUSINS: Well, it's quite possible that we didn't hear 
each other as fully as we should have. As I say, I was 
pressing my own agenda. I didn't think these approaches 
were mutually exclusive. There is always this interaction 
between what the individual does and what the government 
does; always an interaction between the conditions of 


society and the response of the individual; always an 
interaction between the political framework of society and 
the philosophical framework of the individual small 
groups. You have to allow for that under almost all 
circumstances. I didn't feel that there was anything 
inconsistent. I pressed him very hard, because whatever 
one's philosophy may be about the individual, you do have 
to have government. He wouldn't abolish government in 
India because of the need to respect the individual. Quite 
the contrary; he had a very severe problem in terms of the 
fissiparous tendencies of the Indian states. So he had to 
cope with questions of structure. I was trying to get him 
to think of questions of structure as it concerned the 
world as a whole, because I didn't think that what he 
regarded as the fissiparous tendencies in India were any 
less serious for the world. 

BASIAGO: In the 1951 interview, he didn't fully embrace 
the idea of world law. He seemed to speak in terms of the 
need for both great followership as well as great 
leadership, and talked about accounting for the historic 
pace of particular peoples, and these sort of themes. More 
of an evolutionary approach. Did he ever come to embrace 
fully, as your friendship progressed, your ideas on the 
need for a world structure that might enjoy the powers of 
world law? 


COUSINS: Well, before we get to that, you mentioned his 
remark that you need not just great leadership but great 
followership. I think I said that was reminiscent of Walt 
Whitman, who spoke about the fact that you couldn't have 
great poets unless you also had great audiences. This, of 
course, was a truism. But I also thought, as I reflect on 
it now, that he was reflecting some of the problems that he 
had in the leadership of India, where millions of people 
were more concerned about tribalism--cultural tribalism-- 
than they were about creating a nation, which alone, 
paradoxically, could sustain that kind of pluralism. He 
was deeply troubled by it. India, having achieved its 
independence against Britain, was now falling apart, 
precisely because the parts didn't recognize or respect the 
need for a whole. Unable to develop the kind of support 
that would ensure it, he naturally, I think, would probably 
talk about the failure of great followings. But 
paradoxically, he had, to a greater extent 1 think than any 
leader in Indian history, with the exception, of course, of 
Gandhi, but it's hard to separate the two. They were a 

BASIAGO: He seemed to suggest that despite the forces of 
determinism and the fatalism associated with Hinduism, and 
even the sectional strife that the nation was then 
undergoing- -and I guess still is to some major extent-- 


India would ultimately embrace democracy, because Hinduism 
had within itself an impressive universalism. I suspected 
that you were somewhat bemused by this idea of his. You 
pointed out to him how the doctrine of reincarnation, for 
instance, might dissuade Indians from their own attempt at 
inventing the world over again--that the real world as it 
is isn't something that we should, or necessarily can, 
reform. Did you fully accept his optimism on this account, 
that India would embrace democracy? 
COUSINS: Well, first of all, we were speaking 
philosophically. He was able successfully to divert me 
from structural problems of government on a world scale to 
philosophical problems of the individual. This led to a 
discussion of the basic nature of man and whether the 
individual enjoys free will or is subject to laws of 
determinism. He gave his definition. He said that there's 
no conflict between the two. He said, "Life is like a game 
of cards. The hand that you are dealt represents 
determinism; you can't change that. But the way in which 
you play that hand indicates there's scope for free will, 
so there's always this interaction between the two." Then 
when we got into the nature not just of the individual but 
of collective units and the impact of philosophy on 
governance, I tried to reflect my concern. Because 
wherever I've gone in India, I've met people who were 


resistant to change--even in their own situation, which not 
infrequently was one of squalor and deep social injustice-- 
because they felt that they were on a universal wheel and 
that their situation this lifetime was the result of a 
judgment about what they had done the previous one. 
Therefore, they had to accept their lot as punishment. The 
previous generation felt if they accepted that, that 
perhaps in the next life things would be better again. It 
seemed to me that Nehru, who had been educated in the West, 
would find that approach completely antithetical to notions 
of progress. 


DECEMBER 21, 1987 

COUSINS: Nehru didn't resist this idea, but he didn't 
think it was critical. In fact, he'd been under attack 
ideologically because he wasn't moving fast enough in those 
directions. So he wasn't worried about the fact that too 
many people in India were resisting necessary social 
reform. He seemed to feel the problem was designing the 
kind of social reform the people were prepared to accept. 
He understood that you don't just decide whether you're 
going to have a prosperous nation or a poor nation, or 
whether you have a nation that enjoys social justice or a 
nation that is victimized by the absence of it. The leader 
is not someone who is called upon to decide which of the 
two he wants. He recognizes that the conditions of society 
have to be faced. The conditions in India were not 
congenial to the kind of rapid political and social reform 
that was necessary. You've got a very complicated 
equation, which has to do with the economic situation of 
the country, the productivity of the country, the resources 
of the country, the way in which social structures impinge 
upon the economic questions. In India, you have profound 
religious questions as well, with more than four hundred 
different sects. Consequently, Nehru's ability to work 
with all these disparate factors, to advance the condition 


of the Indian people, was difficult beyond belief. 

But his job, as he saw it, was to give the Indian 
people a vision and create a certain momentum--certain 
energy moving towards that vision- -and then have the 
government do everything within its power to accelerate 
that particular process. For him it was a matter of 
philosophical commitment over the long run rather than a 
short-term political goal to be achieved. I found it 
difficult to imagine a more challenging position for any 
leader in the modern world, taking into account the 
separatist tendencies of some of the Indian states--Captain 
Tara Singh, who was trying to get a separate state for the 
Sikhs, the problem of Pakistan and the threat of additional 
Pakistans inside India, as that tendency developed. All 
these different cultures, different languages; it was a 
universe rather than a country. But somehow he held it 
together. Looking back, it seems to me, it was probably 
one of the great achievements of the postwar world. 
BASIAGO: One area that I think might point to some telling 
things about Nehru's personality and form of political 
leadership is the degree of security that he maintained 
around himself in this kind of climate. You mentioned that 
you doubted that the official home of any head of state in 
the world today was as lightly guarded as was Prime 
Minister Nehru's. And you mentioned how, shortly after the 


assassination of Gandhi, he had dismissed a detail of 250 
armed guards that were assigned to his palace. However, I 
find that other biographers point to a situation in which 
when he finally came into power there as prime minister he 
surrounded himself with large cars, bodyguards on prancing 
horses, and the pomp and protocol that one would associate 
with a major head of state. How can we--? 

COUSINS: Well, on this I can speak with some authority in 
the matter. I was at his home one night when his sister 
was arguing with him. He'd come home and found more guards 
around the house. He demanded to know, "Who are these 
people?" They were plainclothesmen, guards. He said, 
"Let's get rid of them." They insisted that he had to have 
it, and there was a very animated discussion. But we're 
talking about three or four men in a little booth at the 
entrance to the place, and not very conspicuous at that. 
He didn't feel that he had to be protected against the 
Indian people. I don't know whether he thinned out the 
guard from three or four to one, or whatever, but it was a 
real issue within the family. If they compromised, it 
would be on some number between five and two, rather than 
250 and armed cars. And then, you recall that while the 
communal riots were raging in Delhi and stores were being 
looted in Connaught Circle, he rushed from his house. 
There were fires, the crowds were swarming. Without any 


bodyguards, he sailed into the middle of the crowd, was 
recognized. He took up a station, stood on a box in front 
of a Moslem store that was being attacked by Hindu rioters, 
spoke to the crowd and got them to disperse. He could very 
easily have been pulled down by some Moslems or by Hindus 
and trampled. Another time, driving in a car into Moslem 
territory in a time of great tension, there was an 
incident, some shooting. His daughter, following the 
example of Nehru when she herself was prime minister, 
exposed herself and was killed. Once Indira told me that 
the people close to her warned her to be more careful. She 
told them, "These dangers, my father said, come with the 
office, and I'm not going to change the philosophy of this 
government in order to deal with it." 

BASIAGO: You mentioned today how you see Gandhi and Nehru 
almost as a fused personality. Some biographers, however, 
have criticized him for surrounding himself with some of 
the viceregal display that he had inherited from the 
British. What kinds of accommodations did you find there 
at the level of his residence? Was it as Spartan as we 
would associate with Gandhi, Gandhi's ashram? 
COUSINS: Well, I'm not so sure that it wasn't half- 
ashram. As Gandhi traveled around India, he would stay in 
very palatial quarters. But he had a good sense of PR 
[public relations], and he wouldn't allow photographs to be 


taken of him at [G. D.] Birla's mansion or the houses of 
other industrial tycoons. Gandhi did not reject comfort-- 
privately. Nehru played it straight. He was not 
impoverished as a child; he had bearers and comfortable 
quarters. The prime minister's house was certainly much 
more modest than the White House, but neither was it a 
hut. It was very homey. It had a fair-sized living room, 
a good piano, small photographs of his friends around the 
place, a good library. But that house was on a street 
where you had dozens of other places about the same size. 
A patio and some area in the back. As I said, it was much 
more modest than one would expect from the head of a state, 
but it was at a level that Nehru would have maintained if 
he had not been prime minister. 

BASIAGO: In some of your writings you seem to suggest, and 
I think you just mentioned it with us in an earlier 
interview, that you seem to admire Nehru more than Gandhi. 

BASIAGO: That he was your man. In other words, one thing 
that you just mentioned is that he did play it straight 
regarding his being a man of means. Are you suggesting 
that Gandhi didn't, that Gandhi was more deceptive in that 
regard, or--? 

COUSINS: Gandhi was a curious contradiction. I think that 
John Gunther, in his Inside Asia, described him as a 


combination of a Tammany Hall chief and your grandfather. 
But Gandhi was not all that had been attributed to him. 
One had the impression that he practiced total renunciation 
in almost every aspect of his life. He made approaches to 
women. He had sort of a King David feeling about young 
girls warming his bed. He copped out at times. When 
Pakistan attacked in the Kashmir, Nehru had a very 
considerable problem in how best to meet it. The problem 
with Kashmir was that there were two methods by which 
accession to Pakistan or India was determined. One had to 
do with the clear majority of people. Is there a clear 
majority of Hindus or a clear majority of Muslims? Another 
was that the head of the state could determine which way 
this was to go. Well, that worked pretty well, but what 
did you do when you had a head of a state who wanted to go 
with one--with either Pakistan or India--though the 
majority belonged to the other side? This was what 
happened in the Kashmir with Sheikh Abdullah. The Kashmir 
had a Muslim majority, but Sheikh Abdullah decided to 
accede to India for historical reasons. Pakistan felt 
cheated, and this led to an attempt to change that decision 
by force. 

Pakistan's attack confronted Nehru with a severe 
dilemma. India had achieved its independence through 
Gandhi's ideas of passive resistance and nonviolence. Was 


Nehru to depart from that particular philosophy with 
respect to something inside India? So he put through a 
call to Gandhi, who was then at Burla's place in Bombay. 
And to his great surprise, the man on the phone asked him 
to wait, came back and said that Gandhi was not there. 
Nehru didn't want to tell the man that he was a liar but 
said, "I'll wait by the phone. I've got to make this 
decision immediately. Have him call me." Nehru stayed up 
all night waiting for Gandhi's call, and would himself--two 
or three times during the night--call. Then, finally, 
Nehru had to make this decision by himself. He sent troops 
to stop the attack on the Kashmir. The resistance was 
successful, and the raiders from Pakistan withdrew. It was 
maybe a three- or four-day war, maybe a little more. All 
this time, Gandhi was incommunicado somewhere. 

But the moment that the Pakistani troops withdrew, 
Gandhi turned up in Delhi. Nehru sought him out. "Bahpu, " 
he said, "we had this situation to face. I tried to reach 
you, because I didn't want to make that decision by 
myself. Do you think we did the right thing?" And Gandhi 
said, "You think you did the right thing?" Nehru said, 
"Yes." And Gandhi said, "Then it's not necessary to change 
it, is it?" or some such equivocal answer. But he ducked 
the tough one on that. Those who knew Gandhi best, Kandghi 
Dworkadas, for example--who knew that situation very 


closely, and knew Gandhi--felt that there were many things 
about Gandhi that ran counter to the world image of the 
man. But Dworkadas very wisely recognized that that image 
was necessary to achieve Gandhi's purpose. 

BASIAGO: Nehru seemed to keep that image alive, describing 
Gandhi as a prophet of certain religious or eternal 

COUSINS: He was, in that sense. All I'm trying to say is 
that the picture was mixed. But Nehru called attention to 
the good side of the picture, and he was right about that. 
BASIAGO: In the interview, Nehru mentioned to you that his 
primary concern at this time was the determination of the 
Indian people to consolidate their independence and protect 
it. Yet he's been criticized by some biographers for 
preaching to the West about world peace, while not really 
improving the lot of the Indian people. Did he share any 
of his development strategies with you regarding India? 
COUSINS: Curiously, he was very reluctant to talk about 
his ideas for relieving tensions in the world, precisely 
because, as he said, the situation inside India gave him no 
special credentials for dealing with other problems. He 
didn't want to make it appear that he was looking to the 
world situation as a way of covering up failures at home. 
So he was extremely reluctant to get involved in world 
problems--as in the matter of nuclear testing. 


But he was a very lonely man--lonely socially and 
philosophically. He had very few friends, or friends that 
interested him, but he was hungry for it. He loved to have 
philosophical and historical discussions. There were very 
few people who could stimulate him in that respect. And he 
was preoccupied with the problems of India. He was a 
remarkable human being, in my mind. Certainly one of the 
most remarkable men I've ever met. While India would not 
have achieved its independence without Gandhi, I doubt they 
would have been able to keep it without Nehru. 
BASIAGO: You mentioned that your main concern, during the 
interview, was to discuss India's position inside the 
United Nations, particularly involving major differences of 
opinion with the United States in that regard. What was 
your understanding of these differences, and what were 
Nehru's responses? 

COUSINS: Nehru was the leader of the Third World. There 
were great problems in terms of squalor, hunger, inadequacy 
of resources. Also, the emerging new nations, nations 
emerging from colonialism. I suspect that--or did suspect 
that--Nehru felt that the United States, which had had its 
own colonial background, was identifying itself with those 
nations that were trying to keep new countries from coming 
into freedom. 
BASIAGO: In discussing the efficacy of the United Nations, 


which Nehru, in the interview, observed was diminishing, 
you asked him if the West felt justified in opposing the 
entry of [People's Republic of] China. You rather 
rhetorically asked him this: "Shouldn't the West feel 
justified in opposing China's entry?" Were you asking that 
on behalf of the U.S., or was that your position? 
COUSINS: No, I was asking a question which I thought was 
in the minds of many people. It was a reportorial 
question, not a subjective one. 

BASIAGO: I see. Another theme that came up during the 
interview was this sense of how both of you were 
entertaining the possibility of a cataclysm, a military 
confrontation between the superpowers. Toward the end of 
the session you prodded him--if such a disastrous showdown 
was to come, what role did he think India would play? I'm 
wondering upon what military thinking that question was 
based at the time. At that time, were you entertaining the 
idea that a limited nuclear war could occur or that nuclear 
war was survivable? I'm trying to put that in the context 
of your evolving beliefs about nuclear war. 
COUSINS: Well, let's go back in time. The United States 
and Soviet Union had come close to war in the Berlin 
crisis, '48 and '49. Earlier than that, you'd had the 
Czechoslovakian situation in '46. You also had [Winston] 
Churchill's Fulton, Missouri, speech, and the fact that. 


very rapidly, the situation between the United States and 
the Soviet Union was disintegrating. [Harry S] Truman, who 
invited Churchill to Fulton, Missouri, where he gave that 
speech, was bitter about the Russians. He had come to-- As 
a matter of fact, he had-- As I explained elsewhere, his 
real reason for dropping the bomb on Hiroshima was not so 
much to spare an invasion as it was to make the Soviet 
Union more manageable in the postwar world. And then 
Truman also had the political liability of being thought . 
soft on the Russians. The Republicans tried to get the 
American people to accept the notion that the Democrats 
were soft on communism. So Truman probably went too far in 
the other direction. But in justification of Truman's 
position, you were dealing there not with a [Mikhail S.] 
Gorbachev Soviet Union, you were dealing with a Stalinist 
Soviet Union. So there was some substance to his 
apprehensions . 

But India's situation was somewhat different, which is 
that they were not involved with the Soviet Union in a 
world struggle for the balance of power. They were not 
involved in contesting America ' s concern over the Western 
Hemisphere. India had its own problems, and Nehru was 
reflecting this. But even so, it seemed to me that the 
spillover of the U.S. -USSR confrontation inevitably would 
affect all nations--every nation in the world. I was very 


eager to find out what his reaction was to the fact that 
India's notion that it could stay apart from this 
confrontation, or the crises, or the tensions leading up to 
it, may have been misplaced. But he was walking a 
tightrope, because he knew that Russia was in a position to 
create a great deal of trouble for India. He didn't want 
to twist the bear's tail, and so he was being as cautious 
as he could under the circumstances. But there's no doubt 
in my mind about what his basic feelings were. It's quite 
possible that the criticism that had been made of him by 
his adversaries, which is that he never got over his 
English education, to some extent may have been true. 
BASIAGO: While Nehru was admitting that such a world war 
would involve massive destruction, yet he noted to you that 
it might be a very lengthy war. I'm trying to identify 
what sort of war scenario that he or you or both of you 
were envisioning. 

COUSINS: I've forgotten about that. I have no original 
memory of that conversation. 

BASIAGO: You seemed to characterize the fear in the modern 
world as stemming from the basic fear of nuclear 
annihilation. He added upon that theme. He seemed to 
suggest that this sort of tension was rising, this fear of 
the consequences of the fatal misstep by those in power. 
Did you come to embrace this psychology? In other words. 


did he contribute to its appearance in your speeches and 
that sort of thing? 

COUSINS: I don't think so. I had the feeling from the 
moment that the bomb was dropped that this was the world's 
number one problem. The only way out, as I saw it, was for 
the world to respond--not just the United States or Soviet 
Union. I may have been disappointed somewhat in the fact 
that it was not regarded as the number one problem by 
everyone else. 

BASIAGO: I just sense that he seemed to give it a larger 
definition. It wasn't just a technical issue but a sort of 
a psychological problem that the bomb had instilled in 
leadership. I was wondering if that was the first time 
you ' d heard that . 

COUSINS: I'm not sure that Nehru's concern about the bomb 
had the same raw edge as mine. Largely because he was 
dealing with a lot of time bombs of his own, and they had 
engaged his attention. As for the other, it was something 
that the world had to address itself to, I suppose. 
BASIAGO: You mentioned that you wanted to probe the place 
of India in the vast historic upheaval them underway in 
Southeast Asia. What role did American fears of an 
increasingly communist- leaning India play in the premise of 
the interview? I'm wondering-- Nehru, of course, had this 
reputation for entertaining sort of a Marxist-socialist- 


planning sort of perspective on economic development. 
COUSINS: The United States, talking about government 
policy, failed to made distinctions. Marxism was regarded 
by American policy makers as a spreading world disease. It 
was regarded in monolithic terms. It was regarded as a 
design for world conquest. There were large parts of the 
rest of the world, India included, which took a somewhat 
different view, where Marxism was regarded as a very large 
smorgasbord from which you could pick and choose. Where 
each country would give its own particular turn to the 
philosophy that went under the name of Marxism, and that 
socialism had to be adapted to the needs of each country. 
You had Norman Thomas socialism in the United States, you 
had socialism the Scandinavian way. You even had some 
aspects of socialism in Britain and certainly throughout 
Europe. But the United States made the mistake, perhaps, 
of thinking of this as a coherent, monolithic doctrine, and 
that once a nation subscribed to it, it would become part 
of a communist world front. 

This led the United States to make very serious 
mistakes in not recognizing the powerful forces of national 
history that would cause the Soviet Union and the People's 
Republic of China to be almost at the point of war. Or 
differences between the kind of socialism practiced in the 
Scandinavian nations and the kind of socialism you had in 


southern and eastern Europe. We applied the same rigid and 
undiscriminating yardstick to India. Which is to say, if 
you are not on our side, you must be on the side of the 
Soviet Union. Any reluctance to agree with the United 
States was regarded as taking orders from the Kremlin. 
Nehru resented this, as his daughter did. But they were 
not any more disposed to accept Soviet influence than they 
were American influence or domination. Although if it came 
to a showdown, of course they would have leaned in the 
direction of the West. In my discussions with him, I was 
being reportorial again, and trying to get him to speak 
about issues which were of concern to the United States, 
which is why I asked those journalistic questions. 


JANUARY 19, 1988 

BASIAGO: As we were discussing, in 1951 you interviewed 
Prime Minister [Jawaharlal] Nehru of India. You met again 
with Nehru at the Bandung Conference in 1955 and 
corresponded throughout 1957 about nuclear disarmament with 
him. Some twenty years later, you counseled his daughter, 
Indira [Nehru] Gandhi, about her leadership policies in 
India. Today a portrait of Nehru by [Yousuf] Karsh of 
Ottawa hangs in your archives. He seems to be a key 
personality in your world outlook, someone who left a deep 
impression on you. I'm wondering-- You said that a basic 
premise of the interview was the idea that upon India and 
the United States so much of the burden of world peace 
rested. How did that outlook develop? Why was this so? 
COUSINS: You used the word--if I just may go back a bit-- 
you used the word "counseled" in connection with Indira. I 
don't think that I counseled. I met with her as I did with 
her father, just as friends, not for the purpose of giving 
advice. But she was very forthcoming in her discussion of 
her problems, reflected in her letters. I don't know 
whether you happened to see some of those which are very, 
very open, as her father had been. 
BASIAGO: Very emotional, I found. 
COUSINS: But your question has to do with her father, for 


whom I had a very high regard. He appealed to me on many 
levels. First of all, he had a highly-developed 
intelligence--in fact, a panoramic intelligence--a product 
of both East and West, as I have written. I really enjoyed 
being with him. 

BASIAGO: I know you mentioned that theme--the idea of East 
and West. You had questioned him on the issue of free 
elections and other aspects of democracy. Again, in 1975, 
'77, when Indira Gandhi started to have some difficulties, 
this issue came up again in your writings. In that way, 
was he billing himself somewhat as an Easterner? In other 
words, was he not evidencing some aspects of Eastern 
culture at the same time? 

COUSINS: I'm not sure I get the connection between the 
question on elections and-- 

BASIAGO: Well, in the sense that-- You've mentioned his 
admiration for the American founding fathers and how, in 
fact, he might have been in that league. I'm just 
wondering, did you have dialogues with him over some of 
these issues of democracies, such as elections? 
COUSINS: Oh, I see. Yes. Captain [Tara] Singh, I believe 
his name was, a Sikh, had produced a great deal of unrest 
representing the Sikhs who wanted a separate state and an 
independent government and produced quite a dilemma for 
Nehru on several levels. First, Singh had gone on a hunger 


strike, and--taking a leaf out of Gandhi's book--now Nehru 
found that pressure directed against India. I just had the 
feeling he wished that Singh would go away and wouldn't 
embarrass him in this respect. Nehru had hardly less 
success in dealing with hunger strikes than the British did 
against Gandhi. But Nehru was not about to dissolve the 
Indian government, even when one of the same arguments that 
he and Gandhi had used to get freedom for Britain was now 
being used by the Sikhs to get freedom from India. Nehru 
referred to this as fissiparous tendencies. There were so 
many different groups, so many different sects in India, 
that he was afraid that India's independence would be 
reversed by a promiscuity of breakaways. These were some 
of the problems that we discussed. 

BASIAGO: You've contrasted Nehru and Gandhi. Pardon the 
expression, but I think to some degree you've suggested 
that Gandhi was somewhat of a phony, that he wasn't an 
ascetic after all, but enjoyed the company of young women, 
apparently didn't keep vegetarian all the time, and 
privately socialized with the wealthy that he publicly 
disdained. Beyond your discovery that Gandhi-- 
COUSINS: Can we hold up on that for just a moment? 
BASIAGO: I don't know if I drew that too sharply. 
COUSINS: I would not characterize Gandhi as a phony. 


Language is very important. It is true that [pause] there 
were aspects of Gandhi that were at variance with the 
general impression of the man. In terms of the monastic 
existence that I suppose was the popular impression, he 
departed from that image quite a bit. I don't criticize 
him for his multiple friendships with women. After all, 
anyone who admires the greatest handiwork of nature, as 
Nehru and Gandhi did, can't be all bad. But it was just 
that he took pains to give a certain impression that his 
own life was different. I spoke about the time that he 
made himself inaccessible to Nehru when Nehru had to make a 
very important decision. I wouldn't use the term phony 
with respect to Gandhi. 

BASIAGO: Oh, he created--he helped, apparently helped 
create this image of him as a saint, and we see the famous 
photograph by Margaret Bourke-White of Gandhi at his 
spinning wheel. I think that's the impression--vegetarian, 
nonviolent, preaching a simple way of life. I'm just 
wondering if those aspects of Gandhi made you disdain him, 
let's say, as opposed to Nehru. In other words, I'm 
wondering why Nehru found his way into your pantheon of 
people that you highly admire, where Gandhi, whom one might 
expect would appear there as well, didn't. 
COUSINS: I admired Gandhi. As for those flaws, if they 
were flaws, I take note of them only because of the public 


impression of the man. I had a great admiration for 
Gandhi. But I also feel that on some occasions he ducked 
the tough ones, leaving Nehru alone to face them. My 
greater admiration for Nehru may actually be a result of 
the fact that I knew Nehru a lot better than I knew 
Gandhi. But both were essential for the independence of 

BASIAGO: Another premise of the interview that I'd like to 
explore, that is the 1951 interview, is this whole issue of 
India's role or response to the United States versus the 
Soviet Union. When you went into the interview, did you 
have a deep background in writings about Nehru? What was 
your degree of preparation going into the affair? 
COUSINS: I drew upon the usual materials, not in terms of 
immediate preparation, because I had been reading Nehru for 
a long time. I especially admired his Glimpses of World 
History, which was a collection of letters he had written 
for his daughter while he was in prison. This, to my mind, 
was one of the great intellectual achievements in the 
modern world. A man who had no reference books, and yet 
was able to write a history of East and West. And he had 
also appealed to me as a modern example of Plato's 
philosopher-king, someone who could be a philosopher, 
historian, man of ideas, and still be adept at 
governance. So when I approached him, it was with a 


concern for what was happening in India and also in terms 
of America's relations with India, which at that time were 
rather precarious. It seemed to me that a great deal of 
pressure was being brought on India from the outside, and 
India needed the kind of support from the United States it 
wasn't getting. I had a certain amount of anxiety and also 
urgency about India at that particular time. 
BASIAGO: That's what I sensed, and I was trying to explore 
the kind of preparation you had had, what had motivated-- 
Beyond the fact that this was a very eminent and remarkable 
personage, I was just wondering what were the other things 
that had motivated you to explore the topic. 
COUSINS: I felt that India represented a balance between 
East and West. China had only recently completed its 
revolution, and that same tide was beginning to move 
against India. And then India, you see, had the pressure-- 
the geographical and political pressure, and ideological 
pressure- -from both China and the Soviet Union, East and 
West. All that stood, it seemed to me, between the loss of 
India was Nehru. It was a real struggle for the world's 
majority, and India represented the balance. So I felt 
that Nehru, who wanted to keep India free, had the most 
difficult task, and probably also the most important 
political job in the world, at that particular time. 
George [C] McGhee, who, as I said--I think I told you--was 


Mr. [E. L.] De Golyer ' s son-in-law, and who had become an 
assistant secretary of state for that particular area, was 
someone I thought who might be in a pivotal position. I 
spoke to him, and he made it possible for me to go to India 
as the first Smith-Mundt lecturer in India. I wrote to 
Nehru, telling him I was coming. After I arrived, I found 
a letter at the hotel waiting for me, as I remember it, 
inviting me to lunch. We ate in the garden. The rapport 
was all that one might ask for. I think we had a pretty 
good time together. 

BASIAGO: Seems like a unique subjective position for you 
to be in. Have you found, throughout your career, that 
you've found a number of important occurences like this 
coming your way, as opposed to you creating them? It's 
kind of interesting that essentially you were invited by 
Nehru to establish the rapport. Has that been typical 
throughout the years? 

COUSINS: I think I told you how surprised I was when [John 
F.] Kennedy [JFK] personally became involved in the attempt 
to smooth the way for my trip to the Soviet Union to see 
[Nikita S.] Khrushchev. He got--well, I assume he got Dean 
Rusk on the phone. Then Adrian [S.] Fisher, of the [United 
States] Arms Control and Disarmament Agency. He personally 
called to tell them about my trip. Then when I had gone 
over to Rusk's place a couple of days later--or the next 


day--the president called asking to speak to me while I was 
with Rusk. He then told me to call him--telephone him-- 
when I had the chance. [laughter] When I did telephone, 
Mrs. [Evelyn] Lincoln put me right through. The sheer 
accessibility was something that astonished me. 

I think I told you that once when I was at the White 
House we looked out through that bank of windows and could 
see workmen setting up chairs on the lawn. I don't know 
whether I told you about this. JFK said that Jackie 
[Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy] had invited some high school 
students, quite a large number of them--music students--and 
he had to play host, because Jackie was down in Florida 
sunning herself. [laughter] He said, "I don't know what 
I'm going to say to all these music students, and they've 
got their teachers with them. Do you have any ideas?" I 
happened to have an odd figure sticking in my mind, that 
more Americans went to concerts that year than to baseball 
games. It surprised him. He said, "Do you think you can 
do a little speech for me? Ten minutes ought to do it or 
so." I said, "When will you give the talk?" And he said, 
"Not for fifteen minutes." [laughter] It was perhaps 
twenty minutes to twelve. I got my secretary in New York 
on the phone to check some figures. I wanted to show that 
the United States was not bereft culturally, in terms of 
the number of books that had been published the previous 


year, the number of people who went to concerts or art 
museums. I thought that America was coming of age 
culturally. Such at least was the proposition to which I 
had committed myself in the Saturday Review [of 
Literature] , and I could see the rapid growth of the 
Saturday Review, as we pursued it. Didn't 1 tell you this 
whole story about Kennedy and writing that little speech 
for him? 

BASIAGO: Is this the one that he read-- I think I read 
about it. He was swimming? Holding it up with one hand? 
COUSINS: Yes, yes. While I was writing the talk, every 
once in a while he would come in and ask me how I was 
doing. I finished it, gave it to Mrs. Lincoln, and then he 
suggested that I go downstairs to the White House dining 
room and have lunch, which I did. Larry [Lawrence F.] 
O'Brien came up to me. "Now I've seen it all," he said. 
"The president had just five minutes before his talk, so he 
rushed down to the White House swimming pool, tore off his 
clothes, and jumped in. But even then, he was looking at 
some cards for a speech he had to give, swimming with one 
hand." [laughter] Being able to go at life the way the 
president did, in these precious little moments that he had 
for himself, gave me some idea of the pressures on the man. 
BASIAGO: Taking it back to Nehru. You had voiced to him 
your regrets that it seemed at times during your trip in 


India that Americans were being held accountable for all 
the colonial and imperialistic abuses of the English during 
the period of their rule. Did that comment derive just 
from the speaking tour, in which you had had a lot of 
questions about race relations brought up? Or were there 
other incidents in which you felt, perhaps, that you were 
being personally treated poorly, or viewed as a Briton, or 
mistaken for a Briton? 

COUSINS: No, but the white Westerner symbolized Western 
colonialism. Most of the European nations-- A white man 
was regarded as a European, wherever he came from, America, 
Europe. In that sense, the identification was easy for the 
Indian people to make. Most of the nations that were under 
colonial control were involved in the struggle for freedom 
at that particular time. And the fact that the Indian 
people didn't make these distinctions was not surprising. 
But I spoke to Nehru about it, if I remember correctly. I 
wasn't troubled by it, I was just calling attention to it. 
BASIAGO: Nehru mentioned to you in the interview that, 
"There are far too many people on the land. We have to 
draw some of them into big industry or small industry or 
both. " I would imagine this would involve some dislocation 
of rural people as they were moved into urban areas, and I 
note that this was a major policy disagreement between 
Nehru and Gandhi. Gandhi, of course, feared the 


exploitation of agrarian people in centralized urban areas 
and industries. Did you ever discuss with him some of 
these issues, about land reform and migration and other 
internal matters in India? 

COUSINS: I think the book covers some of that, the Talks 
with Nehru covered some of that. A sentimental Westerner 
liked to think that a country such as India, with its 
Eastern traditions, would be able to hold onto its cultural 
and historical values without being contaminated by the 
West. That contamination was certainly represented--in the 
view of a sentimental outsider--by industrialization. 
Consequently, when you came to India and you saw the 
emphasis being placed on industrialization, sentimentally 
you wished that that were not so. But it was necessary for 
the people. China's experience, I think, has also 
demonstrated this. 

BASIAGO: You mentioned that you had somewhat of a private 
agenda as the interview began to sort of portray Nehru as a 
key world federalist or make a world federalist out of 
him. You also mentioned that ultimately you'd come to see 
him as the spokesman of the Third World. I'd like to be 
very critical and just bring up the worst thing I could 
find on Nehru, from his very critical biographer Michael 
Edwardes, who writes, "Nehru insisted, with as much 
arrogance as any Western imperialist, that his judgment. 


India's judgment, was superior to anyone else's." 


About what? 

About world affairs. 

Only as it pertained to India. 

Well, he goes on to say that, "His foreign policy 
statements often became lectures, suffused with a high 
moral tone, to the statesmen of other countries. Most of 
these lectures were directed to leaders in the West. Even 
criticisms of the Cold War, though ostensibly impartial, 
were primarily addressed to the U.S." How do you assess 
claims that portray him as an elitist? 

COUSINS: It didn't correspond with my own impressions. I 
tried to get him to acquiesce in the notion that we ought 
to have a great crusade in the world directed to the 
concept of world law. He kept drawing back, feeling that 
you don't preach, you don't moralize, and it was rather 
presumptuous to tell other people what to do. So he was 
the one, I think, who was holding back. If you have a copy 
of my book- -I don't think I have it here- -Talks with Nehru, 
you'll see him drawing back time and again, whenever I try 
to push him in that direction. 

BASIAGO: Nehru admitted to you during the interview that a 
highly industrialized and technologically efficient nation 
like the U.S. could give the greatest help to any 
underdeveloped country like India, in terms of both capital 


goods and technical personnel. It seemed that he was 
taking the point of view that this would be a good thing 
for India, and that it should go forward. Yet, during the 
interview, he never seemed to really commit himself fully 
to the West and to the United States. I'm wondering if you 
had ever engaged in a dialogue with him or others over this 
issue of the United States supplying this sort of aid and 
support yet perhaps not getting full measure in return. An 
issue of fealty, so to speak. 

COUSINS: That was the perception in the United States at 
the time, that India was all take and no give. But my main 
concern was that the United States was actually holding 
back, and it was only congressional legislation with 
respect to Public Law 480 [Agricultural Trade and 
Assistance Act of 1954] which would make it possible for 
help to be given on advantageous terms. I wanted to make 
sure that we got the most out of 480, so far as India was 
concerned. But it was a time when people were choosing up 
sides, you see. What concerned me was that a Nehru-less 
India would turn either to China or to the Soviet Union or 
to both, and that Nehru's essential quest, which was for 
the democratization of India, would be complicated by the 
fact that the conditions for democracy in India were hardly 
ideal. Not just the grinding poverty and all the economic 
dislocations, but the heterogeneity of the Indian people. 


Nehru's own program would collapse unless he did get some 
outside help. It seemed to me that the United States was 
being shortsighted in not moving in massively with all the 
assistance that we could provide. 

As I say, it was a time of choosing up sides. Nehru, 
ideologically, was far more attuned to the United States 
than he was to either the Soviet Union or China, but was 
not strong enough to stand up against either one or both. 
The United States, it seemed to me, wanted the kind of 
public declarations from Nehru that would have been not 
just awkward but unwise for him to make. We wanted him to 
make an unequivocal declaration of partisanship with the 
West. To have been that explicit would have further 
endangered Nehru inside his own country. He was juggling a 
great many pressures--not just the problem of separatism, 
but also the political pressures from many sources which 
were still throbbing from their anticolonial experience. 
BASIAGO: You portray him as someone quite dedicated to 
democracy, and I don't have any basis to question that. I 
do find some other biographers emphasizing to a greater 
degree the fact that, although he didn't become a 
revolutionary cormnunist, for twenty years he was influenced 
by Marxism; it influenced his thought and vocabulary. Some 
others say that he never lost his view of the Russia of the 
interwar years--embattled and revolutionary Russia. What 


motivated you to minimize his commitment to Marxism? 
COUSINS: I don't think he had a commitment to Marxism. I 
think he thought that Marx was out-of-date. As a matter of 
fact, once at the Asian-African Conference at Bandung 
[Indonesia in 1955], he and Zhou Enlai were assigned to 
draft a resolution formalizing a consensus that seemed to 
have been reached at one of the plenary sessions. He and 
Zhou Enlai went off to do this with their interpreters. 
Zhou Enlai spoke enough English, of course. Since the 
conference at Bandung was in English, Zhou Enlai asked 
Nehru to prepare the first draft. Nehru said, "Well, 
shouldn't we discuss it first, to make sure we both agree 
on what the sense of the assembly is?" And they discussed 
it, and agreed on what the consensus was. They prepared 
the first draft, whereupon Zhou Enlai politely took 
exception to it, saying that this didn't represent his 
understanding. So they discussed again, and Nehru said, 
"Well, why don't you do your draft of what we just agreed 
on?" Zhou Enlai did, and it was translated, and Nehru 
looked at it and was appalled, because that didn't at all 
correspond to his view of it. Then he said to me, when he 
was reporting it, "My God, can you imagine what Karl Marx 
must be like in Chinese?" 

I think that Nehru recognized a trend in the world 
toward collective social institutions. In that sense. 


Marxian analysis was correct. But the notion of being able 
to operate privately in some respects in which you had 
overwhelming national needs--this notion also had to be 
respected, as indeed it was by many of the Western 
countries, in Sweden and even by Britain. But Nehru would 
never accept the notion that there were political 
totalitarian features of collective social policy that were 
necessary in order to carry out such policies. He was a 
very stern critic of Marx in terms of the political 
translation of Marx's social ideas. I don't think that 
Nehru accepted for one minute the notion of a dictatorship 
of the proletariat. 

BASIAGO: You mentioned Bandung; this of course takes us up 
to 1955. You note that he took a rather low profile during 
the conference, that "far from attempting to monopolize the 
spotlight, Nehru seemed to go out of his way to avoid it. 
Some delegates were surprised, for example, when he 
declined to join the roster of delegates who made opening 
addresses at the public sessions." I'm just wondering why 
he took such a low profile. 

COUSINS: I don't know. Probably because everyone expected 
him to. [laughter] That scared him off, maybe. 
BASIAGO: Expected him to take a high profile or a low 
COUSINS: Well, I'm not sure that he felt entirely 


comfortable in that company. Symbolically, he was part of 
it. There was no way that he could have been absent from 
such a meeting, and that's not to suggest that he didn't 
favor such a meeting. I think he did. But the concept of 
a cohesive community, which by its very nature would be 
exclusive, was bound to trouble him. Such, at least, is my 
guess. He didn't like the notion of a political alliance 
of these nations any more than he liked the alliance of 
SEATO [Southeast Asia Treaty Organization] or the other 
efforts of the West. He was much more comfortable in 
crossover and universal institutions than in regional 

BASIAGO: Do you think that by 1955 he was following your 
lead--the points you were making in 1951 regarding that 
very issue? 

COUSINS: What gives you reason to say that? 

BASIAGO: Well, it seems that in the 1951 session, you were 
warning that the world could drift into such coalitions 
without world law, and by '53-- 

COUSINS: I see what you mean. I think the logic of 
history didn't pass him by. Certainly, on his trip to the 
United States, I think in '56, he had to take a world view 
of matters. It was at that time that the Russians had gone 
into [Hungary] . He had had conversations with the 
president. Nehru was convinced that the Russians thought 


that the American action in the Middle East which occurred 
at that particular time, when [Dwight D.] Eisenhower 
opposed the unilateral action of Britain and France in the 
area, and they had to withdraw because the United States 
wouldn't back it up-- It came as a surprise to Britain and 
France and also to the Israelis. But anyone who knew 
Eisenhower would recognize that Eisenhower didn't have a 
double standard. He had strong feelings about the concept 
of world law. Power plays, such as that represented by the 
military action of Britain and France, would be opposed by 
Eisenhower. It is true that [John Foster] Dulles was ill 
at the time, and Eisenhower was his own secretary of 
state. But what Eisenhower did was completely consistent 
with his beliefs at the time. Now, Nehru thought that 
Eisenhower's action was extraordinarily wise. 


JANUARY 19, 1988 

COUSINS: Nehru thought that Eisenhower had a great deal of 
foresight in acting as he did. Eisenhower's refusal to go 
along with Britain and France might have averted a great 
crisis that could have resulted in war. Because Nehru said 
that the Soviet Union interpreted the action of Britain and 
France as a forerunner to wider action in eastern Europe. 
Such, at least, was their intelligence. Consequently, when 
Eisenhower broke with Britain and France, that they-- Let 
me back up a bit. The Soviet Union's interpretation of the 
action of Britain and France was that this was a forerunner 
to action in eastern Europe, and therefore the Soviet Union 
moved into Hungary to strengthen its position. But when 
Eisenhower broke with Britain and France, the Soviet Union 
realized it had made a mistake in terms of its 
interpretation. Nehru felt that this was a very fortuitous 
action on the part of Eisenhower in its effect on the 
Soviet Union at that particular time. At least, this was 
the interpretation that Nehru gave me when he spoke to me 
about it. 

BASIAGO: You mentioned, regarding the portrayal of Nehru 
at Bandung, that the American press desired to show him as 
flying from one temper tantrum to another, largely because 
of Sir John [L.] Kotelawala ' s denunciation of communism as 


the new imperialism. You deny, of course, this picture of 
Nehru. I find it interesting, though, that just a month 
after Bandung, Nehru signed a joint communique with 
[Nikolay A.] Bulganin of the Soviet Union, regarding such 
issues as territorial integrity, nonaggression, trade 
reciprocity, and support for nuclear disarmament. In light 
of the timing of this sort of diplomatic initiative, did 
their fears seem more justified regarding the potential to 
be quite favorable toward the Soviet Union? 

COUSINS: That was not the way Nehru interpreted it; it was 
quite the contrary. What Nehru wanted was independence 
from Soviet pressure, and that declaration could reasonably 
be read as the success of Nehru's policy. It was not, as 
some people interpreted it, a reflection of alliance so 
much as it was a spellout of items of mutual respect but 
also complete independence. Nehru was very happy to get 
that document, considering the pressures he had been under 
to yield to the Soviet Union. 

BASIAGO: Yeah, I sensed it wasn't so much an act of 
collusion as mutual understanding. In explaining India's 
support for the policy of nonalignment , as pledged at 
Bandung, Nehru pointed to such cultural foundations as 
nonviolence, Gandhianism, Buddhism, and pacifism. In 
addition to these, did he have more pragmatic reasons for 
supporting nonalignment? He seemed to give more of a 


mythic or abstract justification. 

COUSINS: That was the heart of his policy, you see? 
You've got to realize, as I said before, that nations were 
then choosing up sides. The United States and the Soviet 
Union were putting as much pressure as they could on 
countries to line up with themselves. Nehru's policy was 
to resist any tilting towards either China or the Soviet 
Union. The United States, unfortunately-- Dulles, 
unfortunately, used the [slogan] "Anyone who's not with us 
actively is against us, " which was a great mistake. His 
policy towards the nations at Bandung was a specific 
example of this. Dulles was so obsessed with bipolar world 
considerations that he didn't give enough weight to the 
fact that other countries had needs and policies of their 
own. Nehru's treaty of nonalignment just gave specific 
expression to something that had been his primary aim, 
which was to avoid alliances with the Soviet Union and 

BASIAGO: Nehru wrote in February of 1957 that none of the 
outstanding political figures appeared to have the vision 
to stop the piling up of nuclear weapons, even though all 
recognized a major nuclear war was out of the question. 
I'm wondering whether he was the first to suggest that Dr. 
[Albert] Schweitzer would be an individual that leaders 
could trust, or-- 


COUSINS: He was the first to respond to my question in 
that sense and agree with me. 

BASIAGO: Yeah, I was wondering who was leading on that. A 
month later he wrote to you regarding two things that he 
felt could be done to reverse the arms race. Or, as he 
described it, "The race for the latest type of death- 
dealing machinery." First was a stop to any further atomic 
test explosions; second, a stop to any further production 
of atomic or hydrogen bombs. Again, was that a response to 
one of your appeals? Or were those suggestions that he 

COUSINS: Those were his own. 

BASIAGO: So the test-ban idea was his idea. 
COUSINS: Yes. At that time, we were just forming a 
national Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy [SANE], the 
main objective of which was to stop nuclear testing. So we 
didn't wait for his suggestion to form the national 
committee. It was a recognition by him independently, just 
as it was an awareness by a group of Americans that this 
was necessary. 

BASIAGO: He viewed German reunification as vital, not only 
to Europe, but also to the world. He thought it couldn't 
be brought about by Cold War methods. Presumably, nuclear 
war was ruled out of the question. I'm wondering why he 
viewed German unification as so vital. Did he view that as 


a possible fuse point of superpower catastrophe? 
COUSINS: Well, we had already seen the fact that the 
Soviet Union and United States almost came to war over West 
Berlin, which was the quintessential feature of a divided 
Germany. But I never felt that reunification was 
necessarily consistent with the total requirements of world 
peace. We were then too close to World War II, where 
Germany, which had been devastated after World War I, was 
nonetheless able, in a very short time, to become a potent 
force, not for the good. So reunification, I thought, was 
not necessarily in the world interest. 

BASIAGO: I was wondering if you would have disagreed with 
him on that. This was only twelve years after the end of 
the war; it seemed rather ill-advised. 

COUSINS: I would not have joined any crusade to reunify 
Germany that soon. 

BASIAGO: In one of his 1957 communiques to you, Nehru 
mentioned that President Eisenhower was the one great 
political leader who has it in him to take an effective 
step toward disarmament. We found the same rationale posed 
regarding President [Ronald W.] Reagan. Someone with a 
very clear pro-defense position would be in a beautiful 
position to bring about a freeze in the early eighties. 
Was Nehru saying anything more to you with this kind of 


COUSINS: We're referring to Eisenhower? 
BASIAGO: We're referring to Eisenhower. Was he 
suggesting, perhaps, that the U.S. shared some blame for 
fueling the arms race and that only a strong American 
president coming from the military could help defuse the 

COUSINS: He didn't, as I remember it, place the blame on 
anyone. It was not in his character to do so. But it was 
in his character to perceive openings and to recognize that 
some people did have enormous potentialities in that 
direction. That was the way he felt about Eisenhower. He 
had a very high regard for Eisenhower. 

BASIAGO: He felt that certain personalities had more to 
offer in this regard, so to speak? They were catalysts? 
COUSINS: Yes, I think that his high regard for Eisenhower 
was reflected a number of times. And in that letter, he 
felt that Eisenhower was in a position to take a certain 
measure of leadership. Although he was excessively 
retiring, in terms of his own possibilities in that 

BASIAGO: You've provided some fascinating insights into 
Gandhi's personality, if you will, as opposed to his 
political life, political image. I suspect that Nehru's 
inner life, his spiritual qualities, seemed to have left a 
deep impression on you as much as the figure that he cut as 


a public person. You've mentioned several times the 
stunning intellectual feat of his authorship of Glimpses of 
World History while in prison, virtually from memory. 
Others have marveled at Nehru's ability to memorize large 
passages of spoken conversation and repeat them back years, 
even decades later, complete with intonation. I'm 
wondering if you have any insights into his mental gifts or 
the cerebral aspects of the man, spiritual qualities, 
even. Did he ever do anything so remarkable when you--? 
COUSINS: No, there was nothing comparable to his Glimpses 
of World History in our conversations. He didn't go off 
into grand soliloquies on history. He was much too modest 
for that, and much too responsible a conversationalist to 
arrogate to himself that particular right. But he was very 
well-funded intellectually. He didn't draw upon that 
capital very heavily, but it was there. It made his 
exchanges in conversation very rich. He, as I suggested 
the last time we spoke, was a very lonely man, especially 
intellectually. He tended to operate on the extremes; he 
loved to have fun conversation, but also relished genuine 
substance in his intellectual exchanges, and didn't get 
very much of that, and missed it in life. 

BASIAGO: I suspect that he had some superlative abilities 
mentally, rare gifts. In other words, people have talked 
about this ability just to memorize what they were saying 


and repeat it back. 

COUSINS: When he was concentrating. But there were times, 
I think, where he couldn't tell you five minutes later what 
was said; that was only because he was racing ahead in his 
own thoughts. 

BASIAGO: I'd like to close today by discussing your 
correspondence, rather than your counsel, with Indira 
Gandhi. How well did you know her, as compared to her 

COUSINS: I met her during that time when I was meeting 
with her father and she would hover in the background. I 
didn't have an independent or separate relationship with 
her, although when she came to the United States once, she 
wrote to me in advance and we did meet. And then, after 
she became prime minister, I wrote to her telling her I was 
coming to India. She invited me to the prime minister's 
house for lunch, and her son was there at the time, Rajiv 
[Gandhi] . She did not have the abstract intellectual 
interests that her father did, and so our discussions 
tended to relate more to specific, everyday matters than to 
matters of historic principle. But she was certainly as 
open as her father had been, as her letters reflected. 
BASIAGO: When she was forced to declare her emergency 
program in late 1976, you sent a letter to her in January 
1977, questioning the extent of the emergency program. 


What were you trying to achieve in your communications with 
her over that issue? 

COUSINS: The atmosphere at the time was very heated in the 
United States about what was happening in India. Even my 
protege, Ved Mehta, felt that I was an apologist for Indira 
Gandhi. The papers were full of abuses, the shrinkage of 
freedom, and what was described as her departure from the 
policies of her father. I don't like to be an apologist 
for anyone. The news was very disquieting. It was out of 
that concern and that general atmosphere that I wrote her. 
BASIAGO: Madame Gandhi accused her critics of great 
hypocrisy in not condemning civil rights abuses in 
neighboring countries, such as China, while chastising her 
regime for what she described as "the detention of a few 
people and some curbs on the press." Do you think she was 
accurately portraying what was going on in her nation? 
COUSINS: She was accurate but selective. She felt 
victimized, especially by the press. She didn't regard 
herself as a dictator, and eventually she was vindicated. 
When I spoke to her, she had a long laundry list of 
outrageous provocations, and she didn't quite know how to 
handle them. 

BASIAGO: Are you speaking of the threats upon her son 
Sanjay [Gandhi] and herself and the actions of some cabinet 


COUSINS: Well, when I spoke, I was thinking more 
in terms of misrepresentations--or what she called 
misrepresentations--of a very serious nature in the press, 
about what happened. She resented the denunciations in the 
press. They had said that she would never rescind the 
emergency, and yet she felt that an emergency existed. She 
was determined to rescind it, and did, as soon as there was 
a little more calm. I don't say that she didn't make 
mistakes but that the casual attempt to describe her as 
someone who worshipped power above everything else was 
wrong . 

BASIAGO: I found a rather remarkable letter in your 
archives related to this period. Robert Moses, the 
architect, had written her in a rather rhetorical vein, 
questioning the role of Americans in criticizing India. 
I'm not really certain whether he was being serious or 
sarcastic. He mentioned to you, in sort of a covering 
letter to his letter to Madame Gandhi, some understanding 
of the problems she was facing. Here she was running an 
ancient country, a nation twice as large as the United 
States, bedeviled by conflicting views of an untouchable 
caste and an aristocratic system, suddenly launched on 
democratic government in the midst of a cyclical 
depression. How did you respond to Moses's argument? I 
can't really sense whether he was being entirely supportive 


of her or mildly editorializing about her actions. 

COUSINS: My memory is vague, but I had the feeling that he 

was being reasonable in understanding her problem, but also 

I think he, like most friends of India, was hopeful that 

she'd be able to come right side up as soon as possible. 

And she did. 

BASIAGO: He seemed to be dismissing some of the alleged 

abuses and antidemocratic measures, as if the size of her 

country and its unique problems justified it. Is that 


COUSINS: That was what some of my friends were saying 

about me at the time, whenever I tried to tell them that 

their wholesale denunciations were somewhat extreme. They 

accused me of ignoring the extent of her antidemocratic 

measures at that particular time. My letter to her did 

reflect my concern in that direction. But even as I 

expressed that concern, I knew that it was easy enough for 

people at a distance to pass judgments, and that she was 

contending with real and not imaginary things. 

BASIAGO: So you, in essence, shared his sympathy, as 

expressed in his letters. 


BASIAGO: In June of 1977, Madame Gandhi wrote again to 

you, reporting that: "The whole administrative machinery 

seems to be pitted against one small family, who doesn't 


even have the means for proper legal defense. Unless there 
is some unexpected development, this government is headed 
towards fascist functioning with all the outward trappings 
of democracy. " You responded by reminding her of her 
father's legacy and urging her "not to descend to the level 
of her malicious accusers." You get the sense in these 
letters of a woman extremely emotionally involved and beset 
by these problems. Did you fear that things were spiraling 
out of control there for her personally, in terms of her 
own control? 

COUSINS: There was a time when I felt that, yes. 
BASIAGO: Because I've never read such emotionally 
distraught writings by a modern head of state. 

BASIAGO: Your letters seem to be the sort of counsel one 
would supply someone deeply emotionally troubled by a 
series of conflicts or outward pressures. 
COUSINS: I tried to reflect the fact that there was an 
awareness of the abuses that she spoke about and also that 
she was responding on the human, and not just the political 
level, to what was happening. So what I tried to do was 
two things, which was to say that I understood, but at the 
same time to encourage her to persevere. I don't know 
whether she felt, since I was a close friend of her father, 
that she owed me a detailed explanation, not just of her 


perceptions, but of her feelings. In any event, for what 
little it was worth, I tried to be supportive, but 
supportive in a certain direction. I was rather amazed 
that, despite her strong emotional feelings at the time, 
she was able to retain a remarkable balance. She was a 
mother; her sons were being viciously attacked; they were 
accused falsely--one of them was being accused falsely--of 
graft and attempting to use undue influence. She felt 
protective about her sons, and yet she had to deal with all 
these complexities with very little support on the spot. I 
don't think she had very many advisers whom she fully 
accepted or trusted or could lean on. It was complicated 
and poignant. 

BASIAGO: She mentioned the mysterious death of San jay's 
father-in-law [Colonel Anand] , and she wrote you after his 
plane crash. Is there any evidence there that when she 
finally was assassinated, that it wasn't just this 
religious antipathy that had racked the nation? It perhaps 
stemmed from some of these- - 

COUSINS: The assassination was complete vindication of 
everything that she said was happening and that she 
feared. She herself, if not in her letters, at least in 
person told me that there would be attempts on her life; 
she anticipated that they would try to kill her. 
BASIAGO: I felt it was frightening to read these letters. 


that she had no delusions of persecution, it was evidence 

that was holding up. 

COUSINS: Yes, yes. 

BASIAGO: Robert Moses called her "the greatest woman 

governor in the history of the emancipation of women. " 

What are your views--? 

COUSINS: I thought that she was the second greatest. 

BASIAGO: After — 

COUSINS: My wife [Ellen Kopf Cousins]. [laughter]